Costa Rica part 2: The Rain Forest

Costa Rica in March is hot, especially on the beach. By the second week we were ready for some relief, so we headed to the highlands. Our friend offered us a place to stay in Tilarán, in the eastern region of the Guanacaste province, and just south of Lake Arenál. From there we took day trips to the lake and the volcano of the same name.

The town of Tilarán is small, so it was easy walking distance to everything we needed, like grocery stores and restaurants. On our first night in town we ate our first American food since leaving NYC. The small soda on the corner sold us a hamburger that turned out to be something very like falafel and a “hoagie” that turned out to be white bread with kraft singles and cabbage. They also proceeded to charge us roughly twice the cost of the average meal. On our way out the door we noticed the second menu in Spanish, apparently for locals only. Needless to say, we didn’t order “ethnic” food again during our stay.

The vegetable markets in Tilarán were much better than we’d seen on the coast. On a walk around the town we found several, each with bins overflowing with ripe mangoes, melons, avocados, and plenty of fruits, vegetables, and peppers we didn’t recognize. We had fun trying new things, as well as making a few foods that “taste like home.”

We had a Qi Gong lesson, on a vast porch surrounded by verdant landscape. There was a breeze blowing and lake views, very picturesque! We really enjoyed our private lesson, and came out feeling connection to the jungle.

Down the road we found our first CR microbrew at Volcano Brewing Company. We tasted the lot and discovered that the stout was to our liking (as expected!). From there we walked across the highway to the windsurfing beach, where we enjoyed the view and watched an otter play.

Our day trip to the volcano was one of the most exciting of the trip. We started out hitching a ride with a Canadian ex-pat turned fishing guide who shared stories and advice, and even drove us a couple of miles past his turn off to drop us off in the town of New Arenal. (Old Arenal is under the man-made lake.) There we had lunch and did a bit of shopping, before hitching a ride to the dam, full of locals going to the beach. From there a road led up the side of the mountain to the Arenal Observatory, a loooong walk with excellent views, and even better from the top. From here we walked the trail to the hanging bridges, with exceptional views of the volcano and canopy, tons of birds singing, and an incredible experience that felt straight out of Indiana Jones. We lingered awhile and got the bridge to ourselves for a good 20 minutes. We also saw several lines of ants marching with(relatively) giant pieces of leaves, all in a line, just like the cartoons!

Back at the observatory we had a tasty lunch, before hiking back down to the road. While waiting to catch a ride, we noticed we were standing next to a tree full of howler monkeys, so B struck up a conversation. Shortly we caught a ride, only moments before a tropical downpour hit! They weren’t traveling far, but the storm was brief as well, so we had a nice chat with the guy from Georgia and his local wife. They dropped us off at a Swedish chalet, where we had a look around, before catching another ride with a French couple on holiday. By the time we got home it was time for dinner and packing, and we headed to the airport the next day.

We spent our last night in Costa Rica back in the hostel where we spent our first, in Alajuela. They hardly recognized us since B had shaved his beard. We returned their bus schedule (worth a mint for tourists) and filled them in on our trip. The town was much busier this time, and through conversations with taxi drivers we learned we came back on the eve of Dia de Juan Santamaria, Costa Rica’s independence day celebration. This day commemorates the ousting of the American invaders, so whether through coincidence or serendipity, our departure was timely.

Our month in Costa Rica was gorgeous, relaxing, and full of firsts for me. I look forward to returning someday to explore some more.