Costa Rica: The Little Trip That Could

Hello friends,

I’m sitting in the Logan airport heading home for Thanksgiving. For as often as I find myself here, I really wish I liked it more. Logan is definitely one of my least favorite airports. There’s not enough food (especially in the international terminal), and the food that’s there is nothing to rave about. It always takes forever to get through lines (though today wasn’t too bad, but I’m flying out at 5 PM on a Saturday), and it’s the kind of airport that just dies between 10 PM and 8 AM. Not a lot unlike Boston itself. I’m a firm believer that an airport should be an experience in itself.

Despite that, I have found myself at Logan many, many times over the last three years, in my attempts to escape Boston and see some of the world while I live on the East Coast. I’ve been lucky enough to visit numerous cities along the eastern seaboard as well as travel to quite a few countries. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to write a book about these adventures, like our semi-stupid summer in Eastern Europe. So I’ve of course been itching to write about these places ever since.

I think I’ll write about all of the domestic destinations I’ve been to in a dedicated post, but for now, I want to write about the first country I visited after moving to Boston – Costa Rica.

As everyone knows, Costa Rica is a very popular destination. Everyone’s high school goes there for a week or two, and so do all of your annoying surfer friends. And your stoner friends. And your lazy, rich friends who don’t want to experience any semblance of culture or adventure.

I think because of that, Costa Rica wasn’t always on my radar. There’s also the fact that my high school went to Costa Rica every two years growing up, and when my class visited (a trip which I did not participate in), they were grouped with another high school. Their trip resulted in a tragedy, where some students from that high school drowned in rough waters. I don’t know all of the details, because I never wanted to pry, and I wasn’t that good of friends with anyone that went, but some of my classmates almost lost their lives as well, I believe in the process of saving some other students (or trying to). So Costa Rica was in some way a taboo topic for a few years.

Oh, and finally, I also grew up in a latin(x) family. Granted, I’m Mexican-American, not Costa Rican. I understand the difference (unlike Alexis Bellino). But I grew up surrounded by the Spanish language and Hispanic culture and therefore Latin America never really called out to me as a prime destination. It always felt very familiar, when I sought the strange.

Anyway, somewhere between 2012 and 2014 I realized what I was missing out on. Part of it was the price—flights to C/R from Boston are ridiculously cheap, thanks to Spirit Airlines (though you must be ready to sell your soul). Hotels and hostels were similarly cheap. I was finding 4-star hotels in San Jose for $80/night. That was music to my ears because neither I nor my boyfriend were raking in any big bucks at that time. I was basically breaking even every month after bills, with a very modest savings account, and Justin’s job at that time didn’t provide him with paid vacation days. The other part of it was that I had realized I had been to so many countries in Europe and Asia that I really owed it to myself and the world to mix it up. And by the time we left, it had been two years since I had left the country. I needed it.

And looking back, I know what everyone is talking about. I get why EVERYONE goes there. Sometimes every year. It’s truly magical. Beautiful. Surprising. Friendly. Affordable. Unforgettable.

I would say Jess and I planned our trip to Costa Rica for almost a full year before going, which is hilarious considering 99% of our activities consisted of just swimming in the ocean, eating at the cheapest restaurants we could find, or hiking through the rainforest. And it was only a 10-day trip. But the thing we discovered about Costa Rica is that, for such a tiny little country, there are infinite possibilities of what to do, and there are more “must-see” destinations than you could possibly fit into a week and a half.

At the pace we were going, where we spent 2-3 days in each place we visited, you would need a full month to really see everything Costa Rica has to offer. Our journey started in the capital, San Juan, and then took us down the southwest coast and back again.

At times it felt rushed, but we didn’t even visit anything north of the capital or the Caribbean Coast. Everyone I talked to about planning the trip told me we should really try to fit in more, that they couldn’t believe we weren’t going to Arenal (indeed, considering my love for hot springs), etc. But we didn’t want to spend this trip entirely in transit. And Costa Rica never seemed the type of place you want to rush through. London? Sure. Bangkok? Why not. Costa Rica? No, it’s a place to relax and soak in your surroundings.

I sincerely hope to return to Costa Rica in the near future to see the rest of that amazing country, but for now, I want to share with you some true Backpack Prose – how we spent 10 days in Costa Rica, on a vacation that I have deemed, “the little trip that could.” I have chosen this name because every set of fun happenstance was bookmarked by events that threatened to ruin the whole thing, ranging from slightly annoying moments I’ve almost forgotten about, to ridiculously challenging obstacles that I will talk about for years to come.

Gerard, Justin, and I departed for Costa Rica on August 17th. Gerard was our old neighbor, from when we lived in a house in Lower Allston, with 7 other gay men. He lived across the driveway with another gay man. Welcome to the gayborhood.

We departed Boston Logan in the early evening and that was relatively uneventful.

Just wait.

We had to connect in Ft. Lauderdale—which, if you’ve never been to the Ft. Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport, it really is just the slice of heaven you’d expect it to be. After disembarking the plane, I was struck by the ambience so elegantly created by the sheets of plastic and blue duct-tape jazzing up every visible surface. This mod atmosphere was accented by the only restaurant open at 11:30 PM—Nathan’s Hot Dogs. At times, I couldn’t discern whether I was in an airport, a casino, or a carwash, but I guess that’s just what you get with luxury travel on Spirit Airlines.

The three of us had to transfer from the glamorous domestic terminal to the even more stunning international terminal, which was only like, three or seventeen blocks away , and there were no pesky signs with frivolous words like directions.

Looking back, I don’t know why I’m complaining about Logan.

Anyway, in the international terminal, we would meet Jess for the final leg of the trip to San Juan. We had just gotten to the TSA line, when Gerard realized that he couldn’t find his passport. Gerard’s a forgetful guy, but he’s even more unaware of his surroundings, so I told him to re-check his bags, person, and hands. He looked and looked but couldn’t find it.

Now, there was a HUGE line ahead of us, we only had an hour and a half until our next flight, and I wasn’t missing the Pura Vida for anything. So I told him I was 99.9% sure he would find it on him if he looked again, but if he was as serious as the history of the Jewish people, he should go back to the domestic terminal and request help. He took my advice and we parted ways.

So Justin and I moved on, made our way past TSA with no problem, and proceeded to our gate to try to find Jess. However, we couldn’t find her, and she hadn’t texted us. We hade like 40 minutes until our flight and she’s still not there, and she had mentioned to me that her connection was going to be very tight. Also, remember, she was coming from Houston, and would also have to travel four or seventeen blocks and make her way through a massive security line.

Thirty seconds after setting up camp in the terminal, I feel a shock to my system as I hear the following blaring over the loudspeaker system: “WILL THE FOLLOWING PASSENGERS PLEASE REPORT TO THE NEAREST CUSTOMER SERVICE AGENT! JOSHUA ANDERSON. JUSTIN HUGHES. GERARD COGLIANO.”

What the fuck. This has NEVER happened to me. I thought that was only for A) people stupid enough to just leave their bags on a plane or someshit B) people trying to fly standby or C) people who just don’t show up. We’re obviously checked in—SINCE WE JUST FLEW THE FIRST LEG—but they wanted to chat with us anyway.

So I went to the desk and apparently I forgot to scan my passport. I said “Huh?” and the nice lady goes “Did you just come from TSA?” “Yes.” “You forgot to verify it.”

What does that mean? Is there a passport verification station somewhere in every terminal?? I have never done this before. Have I forgotten everytime and this was just the first time I got called out on it?

So, Justin and I took care of that for ourselves, but Gerard was nowhere to be found, and neither was Jess. At that point, we remembered that we had passed a huge sign alerting us that we had exited the security checkpoint and that if we wanted to return, we’d have to pay the TSA a visit first. That problem would almost definitely be on Gerard’s plate now. So we then started pontificating on what fate might befall Gerard. He had spoken extensively about a friend in Orlando—maybe he’d have a pleasant two weeks with her. Or maybe he’d find his passport in his bracelet or something in an hour and his head would explode.

Twenty minutes later, Gerard made that whole conversation moot by sprinting into the seating area. By many miracles, a flight attendant found his document and turned it in immediately to the airport security. The woman that Gerard happened to flag down was able to get ahold of the right person AND retrieve it instantly, and he convinced enough people to let him cut in line at TSA.

Luckily for him, the flight was then immediately delayed a half hour. This was a good thing though, because Jess still wasn’t there. So, what else was there to do but wonder what fate would befall Jess. We started taking bets.

  • Would she make it or not?
  • Would the plane wait?
  • Would a budget airline even be able to or want to accommodate such a request?

Twenty minutes later, our questions were answered. In strolls Jess with a hurried look on her face, explaining that her plane was late as shit but the flight crew told everyone who wasn’t boarding headed to Costa Rica to sit their ass down until those in that boat could exit. That was all the catching up we had time for, because it was time to board. Yessssss lez go.

So something like two and a half hours later, we arrived in San Jose. There were like eight people on the flight so I got to catch up with Jess (even though we had been texting basically all day every day for the last year) and we were both stoked as hell.

As soon we got off, I realized I had to speak Spanish—somehow, I hadn’t really grasped this yet. I mean, I knew San Jose was in a Spanish-speaking country, obviously. And I knew that I would probably end up using the language—after all, I took four years of it in high school, but I guess I assumed that:

  • Most people in the tourism industry would speak English and
  • I wouldn’t remember anything if I tried

But much to my surprise, I soon realized that I’m…well, kind of good at Spanish. I think it has something to do with the fact that as a child, I spoke some of it all the time with my family. I completely forgot everything I knew by the time I was seven or eight, but I can still pull off the accent flawlessly (though I like to use the Spanish lisp—I have no idea why that is).

ANYWAY as soon as I had to find a taxi driver, it was as though it’d only been a few weeks since I had left my high school Spanish class. Did I remember any tense besides the present and some basic past tense constructions? Hell no. But I could recall a surprisingly large vocabulary, and I had the confidence to get things done for our party. So, vamos.

Immediately, we were all struck by the overwhelming number American storefronts we encountered. On every single block. Every one. Budget. Staples. Quizno’s. Mrs. Fields. Wal-Mart. TGIFridays. Hooters. Seriously—our hotel was across a plaza from a Hooter’s. Also, I don’t think there are even Wal-Marts in Massachusetts, how are they in San Jose? Whatever. I got over it pretty quickly, but couldn’t stop noticing it. Especially the Mrs. Fields—I didn’t even know they HAD stores.

Our first hotel was actually breaking my first rule of travel. It was a somewhat fancy place—a Courtyard by Marriott. I know, ridiculous. But there were four of us, and as I alluded to before, the room was only $80. $20/piece was more or less the same price as a private hostel room, and the Marriott came with a pool! It also came with a Hooters.

However, we definitely made a good investment because if we hadn’t stayed there, we would never have met the concierge at the hotel named Ruben, who ended up showing us all around San Jose and helping us out with finding our bus and restaurants and shit in a very gay way.

We got to the Marriott at around 1:30 AM, and Ruben was the only Tico holding down the fort. Justin and I immediately recognized this slight twenty-three year old with manicured eyebrows as one of us, so after settling in, we decided to pay him a visit to find out just what three gay guys and a fruit-fly should do with a full day in the capital city. He had lots of options and since he had the following day off, he even offered to show us around. SCORE! After all, there’s no better way to tour a city

He then shared his favorite K-Pop videos with us for a couple of hours, and we in turn shared our favorite J-Pop videos with him (all in the lobby, of course). According to him, everything we showed him was “cute.” By 4 AM, we were ready to hit the hay. Though FIRST I wanted to know how he spoke such perfect English.

He responded, “I watch series.” OMG. Okay so obviously I couldn’t just let that go. We then spent thirty minutes sharing stories about our favorite series—his include A List: New York, The Strain, Charmed, and Botched (which he called “Botch-Ed” and due to his thick accent, I could not for the life of me figure out what “Boat-Shed” was). Despite that gay-as-fuck list, he didn’t watch any franchise of Housewives! I know. I made him promise me that he’d check out Beverly Hills.

So the next day we all met up and he took us to get our bus tickets to our onward destination (more on that soon), showed us all around downtown and the main promenades (which were chock full of KFC, McDonald’s, Hardee’s, and the like), introduced us to a favorite restaurant of his, and then ended our evening with a stop by a gay club called Avispa, which our travel book described as “THE place to be on a Sunday night.” Avispa means hornet, by the way. I assume this is some kind of play on the hornet’s stinger.

We arrived at 7:30 PM, which seemed very early, but according to Ruben, this was prime time for drinking. Cocktails were $1 a pop, so we of course loaded up, but we soon realized we were getting what we paid for—they were basically glasses of juice. But I love juice, so I wasn’t complaining.

Despite the proliferation of western franchises, San Jose was a really cool place. I can only describe it as a mix of India and Greece. I don’t know why I have to do that, but that’s how I see the world. I always see people as a mix of other people too. My friends often hear me say things like “that guy looks like Matthew Perry’s and Ewan McGregor’s daughter.” Or when I met Gerard I asked if anyone had ever told him he looked like Allison Janney and Matthew Lillard’s baby. He said no, but I can’t honestly believe that. Anyway, I also can’t believe that I’m the first person to describe the city in that way. But I loved India and I loved Greece, so naturally, I loved San Jose.

Our second morning there, we left bright and early for Jaco, a couple of hours away by bus on the Pacific coast. Our book had mixed reviews about the place, but a good friend of Justin literally JUST returned from spending a month in Jaco right before we left and she had rave reviews. It’s known as a place to go for great surf and a decent beach. It’s also known as a place to get crunk. Or buy crank. Whatever.

As soon as we arrived, we noticed that it was HOT AS FUCK. I was dripping with sweat and totally disgusting and I’m sure I was off-putting to every local person we passed, along with the dozen roosters. Our hostel was right on the ocean though, so I planned to just take a dip as soon as possible.

Speaking of which, our hostel was the Room2Board hostel. It was pretty swish—there was a pool and tons of amenities, especially for a hostel. However, the clientele was the worst—we began to affectionately refer to it as Hostel Douche. For example, we decided to cool off in the pool right awat, which was full of about a dozen dudes with washboard abs, all of whom were pounding cheap beer. The VERY FIRST thing someone said to us was “I hope you guys are cool, because so far the level of coolness in this pool is ridiculously high.”

He was totally sincere. None of us even responded, because we’re probably not.

Besides the douchery (which was pretty much a dealbreaker), it was a really nice place. Not cozy, but affordable, modern, and convenient. It had great views of the ocean—which, by the way, was as warm as an Eggo waffle that just popped out of your toaster before school in second grade. The beach was full of black silt—but that doesn’t stick to you when you walk out, so it’s all good (in case you don’t know this about me, I usually hate to swim in the ocean because A) it’s almost always freezing wherever I happen to be and B) it’s DISGUSTING and I hate to walk onto the beach and feel salt (or more) dry all over my body)! In other words, I loved it. It was beautiful. And it was my first glimpse at the Pacific Ocean, so I was in heaven.

View from Douchebag Hotel
The Hotel Douchebag did have a decent view. It also had HUGE FUCKING MUTANT INSECT MONSTERS. But I won’t hold that against them.

 

We spent two nights in Jaco, and had a pretty relaxing time. It’s basically a surfer destination, and it seemed like we were the only ones in the whole town who weren’t there for that. Everyone suggested we take a lesson, but we were all kind of in agreement that surfing isn’t just something you can just casually do. It’s an artform—a skill you have to commit to, nurture. None of us really wanted to shell out $40 or whatever to spend an hour getting beat up by the waves and perhaps make it up on our feet once. But we still had some good food and got some great views of the ocean in the hammocks on the roof of our hostel. Oh and we did some hiking in a national park or whatever. See below.

Carara11
A trail or some shit at the Carrara National Park outside Jaco

The next destination was Manuel Antonio, a tiny ocean-side village south of Jaco known for its gay scene and beautiful national park where monkeys and racoons will compete for the right to eat your lunch if you’re not looking. We boarded a bus around 10 AM on our fifth day in Costa Rica, and Justin and I had to sit a bit far from Jess and Gerard.

The bus was crowded, and as soon as we boarded, a child vomited all over the floor. Upon realizing the reality of that shit, his mother glanced at the floor, shrugged, and disembarked at the closest stop. That was enough to make me zone out of my whole life, so I spent the rest of the trip with my head out of the window.

Eventually we arrived in Manuel Antonio. Justin and I started to gather our things, and Gerard quickly approaches us and goes “Guys my backpack is gone.” Yes, you read that correctly. Someone stole his backpack.

But at this point, I again didn’t believe him, because it’s Gerard and he smokes so much pot that his head is more or less only hanging on by a fraying string. But after a few minutes, it was clear that he was right—his backpack, with his phone, passport, and other personal articles, were all gone. I guess the travel guide was right when it said “Never leave your backpack in the upper compartment. Ever.”

ASIDE. This is another reason why I always tell people to read about places before they go there! END ASIDE.

So even though we were in one of the most beautiful places in the world, we had to go find a police station and spend two and a half hours filling out a police report. Thankfully, Jess was willing to use her college Spanish for this process and she took the linguistic reins, pantomiming and speaking in the present-tense about something that definitely happened in the past for the one woman in the station who apparently “understood” English but couldn’t speak it.

After taking care of that necessary evil, we hopped in a cab and asked them to take us to the Hostel Vista Serena. This place was definitely cozy, and it lived up to its name—its outdoor common area was a large deck overlooking an arresting, lush expanse of flora and fauna situated in front of the very blue ocean that extends as far as the eye can see.

mafeet
Look at Jess’s huge clown feet. Nice sunset though, right? It really is a vista serena.

If it wasn’t humid as fuck, I would have spent all day and night in one of the hammocks they provided just enjoying the view. Our room was somewhat bland—our pillows were just clumps of fabric shoved into some cases and the bunk beds wouldn’t have survived a hard romp in the sack—but at something like $12 a night, I wasn’t one to complain.

We didn’t do much that night except eat our feelings, but the next day we ventured into the main attraction of this place, the Manuel Antonio National Park, which is a pristine, protected wildlife area that includes a stunning beach, plus a few other little sandy inlets that are worth a visit. Ok. This stunning beach. You have go there. Like, pack up your bags and drive there. Walk there if you have to. Fucking hitchhike.

Manuel Antonio
I just realized this isn’t actually a pic of the beach.

It’s worth it, I promise. It’s the most beautiful beach I have ever been to. Screw Bali and the Greek Isles and Provincetown. The water is so warm and clean, and there are monkeys and raccoons everywhere to entertain you. You may as well be living in a postcard. With monkeys and raccoons. What more can you ask for in life? But watch out or they’ll rob you blind

We spent three nights in Manuel Antonio, and since we had basically maxed out everything at the national park, we needed something to do for our second full day. There was a small town about a half hour past the village called Matapolo, and according to my book, “just south of Matopalo are the famous Terciopelo waterfalls.”

Well, that sounded promising. It didn’t say exactly how to get there, but to instead just ask any local, as they would know. So we jumped onto a bus (which, by the way, are cheap as HELL in Costa Rica! We paid something like $3-$4 for each ride and couldn’t have spent more than $20 total the whole trip) for Matopalo. We arrived in no time, and we get out at the stop with a sign for that town. The only thing was this stop is on the side of a dusty road. There was no “town.” But there was a quaint little restaurant serving up some aromatic arroz con pollo, so we decided to grab some grub and do as the book instructed.

So, we did just that. I asked “Donde esta la catarata Terciopelo?” to our waitress. She looked at me like I just asked for directions to Latvia. So she just walked away, grabbed her phone, and started calling everyone in her whole phonebook. Apparently, no one could help us, and after half a dozen phone calls, she went to grab this dude who was building a wall or something around the corner. She brought him back to us and kind of motioned for me to ask my question again.

It seemed like she knew what we were talking about, but didn’t know how to give directions. So, I repeated the question, but this time I grabbed my book and showed it to them, pointing to the name in the text. I then tried to translate the major words—a few kilometers south of the city, waterfalls, famous, etc etc. They then launched into a rapid conversation that I couldn’t understand, but it seemed more or less like this:

  • Waitress: Ok so you know where this street is, right?
  • Construction Guy: Yeah.
  • Waitress: And you know where that street is, right?
  • Construction Guy: Yeah.
  • Waitress: Ok and in between those two streets is this thing, right?
  • Construction Guy: Oh yeah.
  • Waitress: So where are the waterfalls?
  • Construction Guy: I don’t fucking know.

So that was fruitless. The waitress then suggested we go to some hotel on the beach and ask them. Sure, why not. So off we go in some general direction that she motioned to, and after like two miles and a couple of helpful signs, we found the place.

Well, it was closed. But, we decided to walk around anyway! There were pretty trees and such. This was a good decision, because eventually we realized why the nice waitress sent us here—there was a manager (off-duty) who spoke English. He knew about the waterfalls, but they were far as hell away and would require an even longer walk to get to the actual falls after we got there. Luckily, he was willing to call a cab for us! We were all about that—I love cabs. Especially in developing countries, because they’re cheap as shit, and walking sucks ass.

So after five minutes, our cabbie, Flaco, arrived to whisk us away to the trail head. It’s down a really isolated road that we never could have found on our own, so it made sense why the book didn’t try to explain it. It would have required a whole c chapter to truly give directions to this place in the middle of BF nowhere. He dropped us off and it immediately starts raining, and just as quickly did we realize that we had to ford a shallow river to access the trail.

Whatever, at least it was cold. Plus, Jess had to pee, and rather than pop a squat in the jungle, she chose to perch in her swimsuit in the river. I snapped three pictures of that for old times’ take (I’d post all three now but Jess would never talk to me again let along blog on this site for you all fine people) and we were on the way. Something like five uphill miles later, we found the waterfalls! They were absolutely stunning and gigantic, totally worth the walk.

Except not. They weren’t stunning or gigantic. Rather, they were pretty underwhelming and Jess couldn’t stop wondering if we had missed the big show somewhere farther back. These falls were more or less some rapids that, yes, technically were falling water, but they weren’t waterfalls by any stretch of our definition. After that long ass, hot ass, confusing ass walk, it was underwhelming.

Terciopelo
The Terciopelo whateverthefuck you want to call them

On the other hand, they were still pretty in their own right. More importantly, they were very isolated, so we had this little slice of a jungle river all to ourselves. That in itself was amazing, as everywhere else we’ve gone has been marred by white people. We were the only non-plan/non-amphibious life-forms in these rapids, and we got to cool our asses off in these cold, swimable pools where the rapids would gather. The rapids were also so powerful in places that when I would play with water, I at times felt like a Water Bender, right out of Avatar.

After we finished, we had to walk our asses out of there, because Flaco left us behind hours ago. We started walking through some ridiculously isolated backroads that would have terrified my mother if I even mentioned them to her, past countless roosters and stray dogs. We also kept passing bus stops that we could only guess were there to pick up people for church once a week. A half hour later we found ourselves at a restaurant that let us use their phone to call a cab. Thankfully that nice English-speaking dude from the hotel happily provided us with his number, and we called Flaco back. This time we had him take us all the way back to our hostel because #fuckwalking.

Justin actually stayed home that day because he was tired as hell (it was like 200 degrees and all we did all day was walk, so who can blame him?) and when I returned, he wanted to me see this gorgeous beach he had discovered in our absence. I’m all about shit like that, despite the fact that we’d have to walk more. But thankfully it was all going to be downhill, and after enjoying the beach, we’d take a bus back. Win/win, right?

So, we took off down this back-road through the jungle. OH. You should know that it’s pitch black in Costa Rica by 7:00 PM. It was already well past 8:00. And there aren’t streetlights off main roads. Nor are there paved roads off the main roads. We were definitely off a main road. For light, we had a small mini-flashlight that Justin got for free from a class reunion he worked at, and my iPhone. Not even my 5C iPhone, my old 4S flashlight. I don’t know if that matters, but it wasn’t comforting. We were basically stumbling along a bumpy, jagged, unpaved path in pitch black, surrounded by jungle. In some ways, it was cool. In others, it was terrifying.

Ten minutes into the walk, I had sprained my ankle something like three times, I was sweating my ass off, and I was convinced we were either going to be mugged or eaten alive. Or both, but probably in the reverse order. We made our way through a few dozen twists and turns, and we finally reached a level area. We could hear the ocean. We were homefree, almost. As soon as we made our last turn, we encountered a stopped car. A stopped car just sitting in the middle of the road we needed to cross. It wasn’t moving, and there was no human activity around. So we turned right around and climbed up the huge fucking mountain all the way back to the hostel.

Fail.

The next day, we left Manuel Antonio for our next destination—Uvita. We actually boarded the same bus we took to get us to the “waterfalls.” And of course, on the way there, we noticed that we were literally driving all the way up to and past the entrance that we had so intrepidly hiked to. If we had stayed on that bus for maybe ten more minutes, we would have disembarked right at that river we had to ford.

Except we would have never known where to go, so who knows where we would have ended up, especially without Flaco. At least we realized that those bus stops were used for more than just church.

Uvita was perhaps our favorite place on the itinerary, though it was definitely the least likely to be. I don’t know anyone who’s been there, and the book made it sounds like a sleepy place. But it was super warm and welcoming, and I think I speak for the group when I say that I wish we had more time than we had, which was only one night. Fortunately, we stayed at a sweet hostel with a super helpful owner that drove us to a national marine park that you can only access when the tide is low (If you’re headed to Uvita, check out the Tucan Hotel – and then STAY THERE).

The marine park was absolutely gorgeous (duh) and again, this was a place where only like two white people had strayed that day. There were, on the other hand, plenty of locals, which is fine by me, and a great sign. We walked through the ocean for about an hour, just missing the high tide as we explored this sandbar way out in the middle of the ocean and taking in the stunning vistas of the beach in the sunset.

OH and the other thing to do in this town were, well, waterfalls! At first, I was hesitant, because….well…I don’t wanna say been there, done that, but we had been there, done that, and it took an hour and half to get to and wasn’t even that great! But we decided to go to this one anyway because I had actually read some good things about it. Thankfully the walk was a pretty brief ten minutes, and the waterfall actually was….drumroll please….a waterfall! A postcard-perfect one at that that you you could frolic in from many entrances.

I’d include a pic but apparently it was so arresting I forgot to take an actual pic, but yes, we really did see a full-fledged wall of falling water careening off a cliff, and we were able to swim in some chilling pools amidst a tropical ambience. Totally a winner. You should check it out ASAP. Really, the only low point of our entire time in Uvita was this local party we went to for expats where all these old white people were dancing to Neil Diamond covers or something. There, we met this annoying white lady who gave everyone her card, in case we wanted her to paint a contemporary portrait of our pet. Yep, that’s her career. In Uvita, Costa Rica.

#whitepeopleproblems

Finally, we bid goodbye to the coast and moved inland to the mountains. We also said goodbye to Gerard because he had to go to the capital to get a new passport.

We had plans to hike the Cloudbridge Nature Reserve on Mt. Chirripo, the largest mountain in Costa Rica. But first we had to make a pit stop in a mid-sized city called San Isidro del General, to chill for a night. Basically we just wanted to break up the trip because my book said that, though the mountain was a mere 21 km away, it took 2 and a half hours to get there by bus. We doubted the validity of this claim, but we also admitted that ascending a mountain could probably cause unforeseeable delays, so it was best to just chill in the city for a night. Apparently they had a McDonalds, so there was probably enough to keep us busy.

This ended up being the best decision ever because as soon as we disembarked the bus from an entirely uphill journey, I felt like I was going to explode. Seriously, my body was one giant bruise, and it was though if you poked me, I’d ooze out of every pore. I had no fever, nor any other symptoms of any kind of condition, so we chalked it up to altitude sickness. I instantly became an infant and wouldn’t leave the bed of our hotel until I felt better. Besides, the tv in our room had HBO (in English)! The others went out to shop at some placed called Dollars Mart or Dollar Smart or Dollar$mart and I stayed behind to watch, among other things, Beyonce perform at the VMAs, Jessica Chastain star in perhaps the only less-than-stellar film of her career, Mama (dubbed en Español), and the series finale of True Blood. Even though I haven’t watched that show since that whole orgy thing ruined Season 2.

At least, when I do finally pick it back up, I know how it all ends (Spoiler alert: Dumbledore runs off with Bill and Jason for a dirty weekend on Fire Island).

Back to Dollar Day or whataver. Justin found some tank tops but Jess couldn’t find anything but crop tops, tops with no back, and pants that came with a free camel toe. They thought about buying this too:

Kate Hudson san isidro
Who wouldn’t want a framed pic of Ms. Kate Hudson? What was I thinking getting my mom jewelry?

The next day, we headed to the mountain. Well, really, we headed to a village called San Gerardo de Rivas, located at the bottom of said mountain. We didn’t want to risk sitting on a bus for 2.5 hours, so we called a cab. It was only $30 total, so we were all about that shit. PLUS the whole town is on one long road and we didn’t know this at the time, but our hotel was literally the VERY LAST STOP on that road before the trailhead for the mountain (aka you literally could not get farther way from the bus stop than by going to our hostel). So that was a good decision all around.

So we check into our hostel and walk to the trail. Ok. If you ever go to Costa Rica, you probably won’t think about hiking around the mountains in the middle of the country, since 90% of people go for the beaches, and so did we, pretty much. But I highly, highly suggest you check out the Cloudbridge Nature Reserve in San Gerardo de Rivas.

Cloudbridge NP
I feel like the magic just oozes out of this photo. Not because I enhanced the greens in Photoshop. Because Cloudbridge is magical!!

Our book was not right about how long it took to get there (twenty minutes????), but it WAS right when it called the Reserve “magical and mystical.” Also, it’s worth pointing out that if you want to climb the actual mountain of Chirripo, you need multiple days and a lot of stamina and even more time to adjust to the altitude.

If, however, you’re like us and you’re content to just hike around some beautiful mountain/jungle environs , the Cloudbridge Reserve is everything you need. It’s this unforgettable network of trails of varying difficulties that pass waterfalls/swimming pools (real ones!), a meditation garden, and more. It’s also NOT hot, because it’s up so high, so you don’t feel like you’re gonna die the whole time.

OH but it will probably rain if you’re there in the wet season, as we were, and then you might drown or sprain your ankle, which I did. OH AND you have to be careful which trails you take—there was one point where we took a difficult trail and we basically almost killed ourselves traipsing through the jungle and trying to climb up rocks rather than pass through a clearly marked trail like everywhere else. That adventure may or may not have given Justin a slight case of PTSD.

So after that amazing but also somewhat stressful day, we retired to our hostel. Well, we walked through the rain for twenty minutes or so to get there anyway. Now, our hostel was super, ridiculously, stupendously, crazy adorable. It was called Casa Mariposa, and it was built INTO that mountain I keep raving about. The rooms were offset by these little stone trails, and there are Tiffany lamps and handmade murals and comfy pillows at every turn. Since, like I said, San Gerardo is freezing, so it’s a perfect place for cuddling up and reading after a long day of hiking.

Cat at Mariposa
The best art about the Mariposa Hostel? They had cats 🙂

The downside is that they shut down at 9:00 PM. Isn’t that ridiculous? There’s no Wifi either, just one old Macbook that they turn off AT EIGHT O’CLOCK. We didn’t know that this was happening OR that it happened basically everywhere else in town, so we were kind of dismayed when we tried to find some food at 7:00 PM, only to find out everything in town was closed, and then to return to try to cook something in the kitchen, only to find out that it “was closed (meaning they turned the lights off).” This was ridiculous because they even sold groceries, but it was like that scene in Portlandia where the Women and Women First ladies won’t sell Aubrey Plaza a book. She’s within reach, but just can’t have it. That was literally us—we were two feet from the kitchen, could see all of the groceries, there was no one in line or any reason why they had to “close”, but we had no options other than to sit in our room. I can hear the convo in my head:

  • Us: Could we buy some of that pasta?
  • Them: “Sorry, we can’t reach it.”
  • Us: “But…it’s right here. “
  • Them: “Were very sorry, there’s nothing we can do. “
  • Us: “We’re starving. It’s literally RIGHT HERE.”
  • Them: “We don’t know what to tell you. This isn’t a party hostel.”

In all fairness, I assume this “closing” policy is due to the fact that they cater to hikers who have to get up at the buttcrack of dawn. BUT they should have clearly stated this at check in, or on their website, or anywhere really. And fuck, it’s not like we wanted to do tequila shots and jam out to the Spice Girls. Though what hiker wouldn’t love that?

The next day, we took off to return to the capital for our trip home, sprained ankle and all. As per usual with us, we didn’t have the energy or desire or will to do anything but go out to eat and sit in our hotel, so that’s what we did! It was great. I love San Jose, so we were happy to just take it easy and absorb the atmosphere peacefully.

Except that 23 hours before our flight, I got online to check in for our flight. I open my email that says, “Check in now!!!” as always, but after clicking the link to actually do so, I’m immediately greeted by a message saying “thanks, but you can’t check in online. Sorry, not sorry.”

That is NOT the message you want to get the night before you’re supposed to fly home on a budget airline and you have to be at work in 36 hours. So I try to call, but it’s like impossible to do so from our budget hotel. So Gerard calls his boyfriend, Christian, back home and the call literally goes:

“Hi Christian, it’s Gerard. I only have two minutes so listen. You’re going to call Spirit Airlines for me. You’re going to find out why we can’t check in online. Grab a pen and paper. Copy the following information down, call them and email me what they say.” He then read to him our confirmation numbers, full names, birthdays, passport numbers and dates of expiration. Fortunately, it took less than two minutes.

So a half hour later Christian emailed Gerard and said we were good to go, and that we may or may not receive the boarding passes in my email, but we’re checked in. Whoo! What a relief. I check my email again and see that I do have an email from Spirit! Success, right?

No. It’s literally the same email as before that just says “Check in now!!!” So I figure it’s worth a shot to try again, but I still get that same message that says sorry, you can’t check in, not sorry. But it was fucked, because Jess was able to check in for her flight, no problem.

Whatever, there was nothing more we can do. Hopefully we weren’t bumped or fucked or delayed or what have you. We went to to bed early for an early morning and Jess flew out in the middle of the night. Oh, bye.

Fortunately, there were no problems there. I will say that a highlight of our exit was the cab we took to the airport in which we heard some hilariously sentimental music, such as “Ruby Tuesday” and that “If You’re Going to San Francisco” song. It was like the cabbie wanted to make us cry. But I didn’t. I just wanted to, and in our new friend Ruben’s word, it was cute.

So we get on the plane as scheduled, and fly to my favorite airport in the world, Ft. Lauderdale/Hollywood. It was just a welcoming and glamorous as we remembered. After making our way through customs and TSA, our layover time was something like twenty minutes, which was perfect! We only had one small touch-down in Myrtle Beach before we wer home free. So again, we boarded with no problems. The flights virtually no bumps, and just about two hours later, we arrived safely in Myrtle Beach, for a brief break while new passengers prepared to board. We didn’t even have to get off the plane!

Except, then the shit began to hit the fan. Over the intercom, we hear, “Attention passengers. At this time, we must ask everyone to deplane. During our descent, we…struck a bird. We have to test the plane to make sure it’s fit to fly…those darn birds. Those…darn birds.”

So we deplaned. Ugh. Fine. Ten minutes after I grabbed a seat in the waiting area, a flight attendant announced “Attention passengers. The aircraft has indeed struck a bird. This means a two-hour delay. Unfortunately the airport closes at in ten minutes. We are trying to convince them to keep the airport open for a couple of hours. If they are unable to, we will try to find somewhere to put you guys up.”

Ok, not too bad. Truth be told, I would rather have gotten a decent night’s sleep and flew out in the morning than fly out at 2 in the morning. But then, not forty-five seconds later, I heard the most fateful announcement of the whole trip:

“Attention passengers. This flight has been cancelled. Please proceed to the ticketing counter to be re-ticketed.”

Then, the entire waiting area bum rushed the ticketing counters. Now I understand how those stampedes in India happen. Halfway there this girl stridds up next to me and asked, “Excuse me, where are we all going?” I guess she was just following the crowd. For all she knew we had had a gate change. So I explained, and without missing a beat she sprinted past at least dozen people in front of us.

Thirty minute later, we were waiting in line and still have half a dozen people in front of us. We hear through the grapevine that we have two options—refund or rebook. Simple enough, except that the next flight to Boston isn’t for A WEEK.

I’m sorry, what kind of travel plans of any kind at all can wait an entire WEEK? Whether you’re leaving or returning, traveling for work or pleasure, leaving for a week or a month, who can wait an entire week? I honestly would love to know how many people actually chose the option to re-ticket.

The worst part of all of it was that WE WERE IN MYRTLE BEACH. If we had been in Atlanta or Miami or even Charlotte or something, we probably could have figured out some kind of shitty yet affordable way to get back to Boston. But we were at this tiny resort town, with hardly any flights. Some guy told us he was driving to Charlston to take a Delta flight he scored for $500.

So it was as shitty a situation as possible. Fortunately, my genius boyfriend had the foresight to call up Budget car rental and reserve the LAST car they had before they closed at 12:00 AM. The price? A mere $185 per day for a hybrid with unlimited mileage. Between the three of us and the young African American girl standing in line behind us practically begging to hitch a ride, it came to less than $50 per day—before gas that is.

And we were sure as hell going to get there within 24 hours. Perhaps the only downside to this was that we were a car full of three gay dudes and a black girl driving through South Carolina through the dead of night. And of course we got diverted from the main road. We definitely had to drive past no less than a dozen scary ass Baptist churches as we meandered to the interstate on dinky little roads with names like “General Cumberson Latchet Drive.” Every state line we passed came with a collective sigh of relief, as we made our way into bluer and bluer country.

BUT some sixteen hours later, after driving through rough hour in D.C. as well a passing Franklin Lakes, the home of the Real Housewives of New Jersey, we arrived in Boston safe and sound. We and Gerard agreed to not talk for at least eight years. I

In our absence, summer had turned to fall, and I had one week until classes began. I then returned to work and school frazzled as hell, but thankful as ever for a really great trip.

Moral of the story? Go to Costa Rica. But not on Spirit Airlines. And go to the mountain. But you don’t have to climb it. Oh, and…if you want, there are people like Ruben that you and your boyfriend can have a three-way with.

Love,
Josh A.

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