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Costa Rica: Part two

Nicola Gledhill



Welcome to part two of my Costa Rica wrap up: the Adventure Tour! It was hard saying goodbye to our host families, but a fun-filled two weeks ahead eased any separation anxiety. After organising our adventure tour groups and meeting our guide (Diego) we were let out on the town for one night. Everyone ended up at the same bar by the end of it ($1 drinks) and we trundled off home in the early hours for a short sleep before having to repack and meet the buses at 7am.
There were about 25 people in each adventure tour group, including our original volunteer work group and two other groups who had been working with spider monkeys and sea turtles! The big purple ISV bus taking us on our tour came equipped with a DVD player and a bus driver named Hans so we didn’t get too bored traveling to our first stop, Guanacaste on the Pacific Coast.
At Guanacaste we encountered our first real hotel. The hotel was right on Ocotal Beach and had amazing views over the ocean as well as a full buffet breakfast – no more rice and beans! We were so excited by the prospect of toast, fruit, porridge, bacon, pancakes and hash browns that we ate ourselves silly the first morning we were there and had to laze by the pool for over an hour while our food digested. Around 10am we set out on a boat to a nearby reef for the first adventure activity, snorkeling. We had the option of scuba diving for an extra $100. Not being a water person myself, I gave up on the snorkeling after about five minutes of continuously being stung by some sneaky transparent sea creatures. After drenching myself in vinegar I opted instead to sunbathe on the deck of the boat. Later I got to see some awesome pictures on an underwater camera of blowfish, flounder, stingrays and colourful tropical fish. The ride back on the boat was a couple of hours, which was a bit too long for my previously sun-starved skin, even with three applications of sunscreen. By the time I got off the boat I was pink and later that evening I was as red as a lobster.
The next day we woke up bright and early, overdid it again on the buffet breakfast, and hit the road. Our second stop was the more mountainous region of Monteverde (‘Green Mountain’), where we stayed at a hotel resembling a mountain lodge. Everything at the hotel was so well presented, from our towels folded into the shape of swans, to the arrangements of fruit at breakfast. In the morning, we went on a guided hike through an ecological reserve and visited a hummingbird sanctuary, then after lunch prepared ourselves for the second adventure activity. This time it was Sky Trekking: zip-lining through the jungle canopy on a flying fox hundreds of metres above the ground. The view was incredible.
On our last day in Monteverde we went horse riding at the local stables. Costa Rica has only two seasons, wet and dry, and during November it was nearing the end of the wet season. Because of this the horse tracks were extremely muddy – which meant muddy faces for us when the horse in front kicked up its heels – and a lot of fun was had galloping around the fields.
Back on the road again, and this time we headed to Arenal for a one-night stay. Arenal is home to Mount Arenal, one of Costa Rica’s active volcanoes, and the Arenal Natural Hot Springs which are heated by the volcano. The hottest pool was 67°C and is visited annually by the governor of Taiwan, who apparently soaks in it for an hour at a time. Some of the group opted for the optional private bus tour later on that night up to Mount Arenal. The volcano was very co-operative and put on a spectacular display with streams of lava and rocks the size of houses.
The next morning we arose at 5am and left Arenal. We had to swap our bus for a river boat in order to reach our next destination, Tortuguero. During the hour long boat ride the driver pointed out turtles, monkeys and even a crocodile, making me somewhat wary of our river kayaking planned for the next day. The place we stayed at was my favourite out of all of them, with huts on stilts and bridges connecting us over the swampy river. Unfortunately, we had to share our surroundings with howler monkeys (who threw things on the roof) and army ants (who bit our feet). The owners told us that the ants swarmed the whole place for three days every year in order to clear everything up and that we happened to be there for two of those days. Lucky us. The ants paraded in front of our huts and we had to take running leaps and slap them off our feet. We also had to check for scorpions in our beds, and one group found a poisonous snake in their toilet.
After being woken early by the howler monkeys, we chose a partner for kayaking that day in the (crocodile infested) river. There was a lot of sightseeing to be done and we soon spotted a family of white-faced monkeys. We also saw iguanas, otters, 2-toed sloths, Jesus Christ lizards (which can walk on water), and an Anhinga (like a black heron). There were two more crocodiles, which are apparently quite safe so long as you stay away from the nests (we didn’t actually know where the nests were, but the guides seemed to).
We left Tortuguero the next day by boat and headed toward our final destination, the Caribbean coast, and it was exactly as I would have imagined Jamaica to be like: white sand, palm trees, little kids on bicycles, and people with black dreads who smile at you with white, white teeth. The place where we stayed was called Almonds and Corals and was pretty jungle-like. The trees were inhabited by monkeys and sloths, and we found a bright green tree frog with blood red eyes on the water cooler before lunch. The monkeys followed us from tree to tree as we walked around, but the sloths completely ignored us the whole time. Our guide told us that sloths only get down from their tree once a week to go to the toilet and won’t get down for anything else, even if they dropped one of their babies. They take three days to have sex.
After a night out clubbing, the following morning we had a bike tour planned along the beach, and most people stayed and went swimming for a few hours before going back. I signed up for an optional hour-long horse trek along the beach. I ended up getting a crazy horse with a loose saddle who galloped off down the road, scraping me against trees and trying to run me into cars. After ten minutes we ended up back at the horse’s owner’s house where I promptly paid my money, took my bike and left. That afternoon we did another sky trek in the surrounding jungle where the guides would hang upside down and backwards on the cable and pretend to be monkeys. The real monkeys watched from a distance and threw leaves at us when we weren’t looking.
After leaving Almonds and Corals we arrived at the Pacuare River for two days of white water rafting. It was an exhilarating experience, especially on the last day when were able to jump out of the boat between two cliffs and float along the river in our lifejackets. Our rafting guides were so friendly and took good care of us for the two nights we stayed at the rafting lodge. If someone started getting stressed out they would just pat their shoulder and say “Es okay – don worry!” or “Re-lax!” On the second day we had a break from rafting and went on an intense hike with our hyperactive rafting guide. He took us up cliffs and through rock pools, ending up at a waterfall that could be slid down like
a waterslide.
The adventure tour was an amazing experience. There were plenty of adrenaline-filled activities – as well as relaxing ones – and we always knew we were safe (except for one girl, who must have been cursed with an unlucky charm, managing to put herself in danger in almost every activity). Our guides were so helpful, making us feel at home in the strangest of places. The accommodation was also amazing. The icing on the cake for me was the one-day stopover in L.A. on the way back to New Zealand. We spent the whole day at Disneyland, and it was the perfect end to an awesome holiday.