11.26.2010 - 11.26.2010 75 °F
“The only question in life is whether or not you are going to answer a hearty ‘YES!’ to your adventure.”
— Joseph Campbell
40% DEET spray: check.
Hiking boots: check.
Wanderlust: heck yes.
In a nutshell, I'm a writer. However, even though I've always been interested in travel writing, I've been very limited in this respect due to... well, my lack of traveling. Let's just say that I'm 25 and this is the first time I'll be using my passport. I fill my DVR with Samantha Brown and my bookshelf with travelogues from Australia and Europe, but I've simply never had the opportunity to experience the great wide world. I'm ready to cross some oceans and traverse mountains, maybe doing a little blogging along the way.
Which brings us to today, the first day of our trip to Costa Rica--the Rich Coast--which was named after the golden jewelry that the native inhabitants wore in their ears and noses. This trip was long overdue; both Matt and I needed a break from work and from the cold Midwestern weather. My husband is a software developer, which I suppose qualifies him as a different sort of "writer" (according to him). Basically, both he and I spend 8 to 10 hours a day squinting at a computer screen, straining our eyes, killing our posture and fast-tracking carpal tunnel. After a particularly grueling (but rewarding) election season that saw me working about 70 hours a week, we decided that we needed to finally take our much-delayed honeymoon and escape to paradise together. After looking into distressingly pricey beachfront cabanas in the Caribbean, I realized that we couldn't possibly travel modestly and have a comfortable ocean view anywhere in those salty turquoise islands.
So we hop on a plane and, after a quick layover in Atlanta, find ourselves flying over the Florida Keys and watching the Seven Mile Bridge stretch across the island archipelago. We pass over Cuba, which despite Jimmy Buffett’s daydreaming about Havana looked to be underdeveloped and dry. But the craggy Pacific coastline and green tree lines of the Costa Rican coast give us a sneak peak of what sort of landscape we'll be exploring during our 12-day excursion through this small Central American country.
But first, we need to spend 4 hours driving into the heart of the country to La Fortuna, a popular travel spot near the base of Volcan Arenal.
We touch down in the Liberia airport and are shuffled through customs, immigration, baggage claim and the tourist bureau—which is all located in one room the size of an airplane hangar. For being one of the largest airports in Costa Rica, it is certainly small and basic. And, despite having an open-air design, it is extremely hot, especially for someone who had just gotten acclimated to an Ohio autumn. The flight attendant on the plane said it was only in the upper 70s, but with the humidity it feels like the mid-80s.
Almost immediately after checking into customs, I run into the tiny bathroom, peel my damp jeans (careful not to drop them into the water--or what I hope is only water--splashed across the floor), and pull on my lightweight North Face hiking pants. With a 4 hour drive ahead of us, we decide to grab a quick meal so we can get on the road as quickly as possible and so we won't have to leave our bags in the car for too long. I'm a little ashamed to admit that our first meal in Costa Rica ends up being at a McDonald's, but we are in a rush so I think we have an excuse.
Our drive inland into the country brings us many different sights. We gradually transition from the crowded streets of Liberia to acres of horse and cattle farms, to the dense green rainforests that have made Costa Rica so popular with travelers. As we climb into higher elevations, we feel the air chill a bit and our clothes turn clammy. The sunshine of the coast surrenders to the haze and clouds of the rainforest, but remembering the oppressive heat of just a few hours before, I certainly am not going to complain.
The mountains of the Central Highlands smell of burgeoning humidity and wet leaves. On our 3-and-a half hour drive from Liberia around Lake Arenal to La Fortuna we stop by the side of the road multiple times just to take in the views or to snap a few photographs of animals, like a howler monkey in a tree just above the road and a strange raccoon/anteater-like creature known as a white-nosed coati.
One thing I learn today: visit Costa Rica and you’ll get lost a hundred times. Sparse roads stretch like cobwebs across the landscape, visceral and primitive. There is no easy way to get anywhere, no direct routes. There are more potholes—huecos—than street signs. We get mildly lost a few times on the confusing labyrinth of poorly marked roads, and the road map is of little help. The streets on the map and on the roads themselves are not marked, so I find myself trying to navigate just based on the curves of the road or where we MIGHT be.
But the drive is intensely beautiful. We often cross bridges over rushing mountain streams or twist along steep slopes. We see many alluring shops, galleries or restaurants that I am dying to take a peek into, but we need to reach our hotel before nightfall. So we press on, with the thought of a warm bed and a 7-hour sleep encouraging us.
When we finally arrived near the base of Arenal Volcano and drove through La Fortuna, a heavy downpour makes our travels even more arduous. Luckily, we only have to drive for about 15 minutes in the rain before we find our hotel just before darkness falls.
Hotel Kokoro is a sleepy oasis in the middle of the jungle, with a row of bucolic wooden cabins hidden among beautiful landscaping and charming tropical touches. We are immediately impressed by the grounds, which have clearly been lovingly cared for by the owners. The reception area doubles as an outdoor lounge/breakfast area, covered with a thatched roof that keeps us dry in the rain. Despite the fact that we feel half a world away from home, this place was extremely homey. A few guests sit at a table, one quietly playing guitar. At another table, a father and his two young daughters are focused on their laptop. When one young girl starts to get fussy, the guitar player invites her over to sing Christmas songs with him—in this case, “Frosty the Rain Man," appropriate for the soggy night. And, of course, just beyond the thatched roof and open walls we can see the jungle foliage, molten and lacquered by the rain.
The manager, who is also the young son of the owners of the hotel, walks us out to our cabin under an umbrella. He introduces himself as Felico. He's 27 and his family is from Taiwan; however, he himself grew up in Costa Rica. He is very warm and friendly, as are all the other employees of Hotel Kokoro.
In addition to the superb hospitality, our cabin is yet another surprise. High vaulted ceilings make the room feel spacious and airy, and there's hot water in the shower. Hot water is not always a guarantee in Costa Rica. Because of all the heavy rain, our ceiling is leaking and leaving puddles on the tile floor, but it’s not leaking in places that matter (like the bed, for example!), just in the corners of the room. It’s a small price to pay. The hospitality and the ambiance make it worth it. Plus, what do you expect when you're in the middle of the rainforest?
Outside, the night is alive with the sounds of insect songs. The rain on the roof of our cabin sounds like soft water on river rocks. I know that this is the best sleep I will have in a long time.