Waikiki – Homeward bound

Our initial plan was to spend only a week in Hawaii but due to lack of flights to New Zealand we had to extend to two weeks.  One week would have been a perfect finish to a wonderful adventure.  The second week though was tinted by a spell of average to poor weather, which really hinders any quality beach/pool time.  We did consider heading over to Maui for a week but the cost of flights and accommodation over there coupled with the luggage we have now acquired made this option not viable.

We made a couple of trips to the North Shore to see the fabled Banzai Pipeline and Waimea Bay and were rewarded with some monster waves to view from a very safe distance.  The trip north also allowed Dominic a couple of surf opportunities with the added bonus of another lesson.  His instructor this time was a lady named Karen who is a seasoned professional.  She used to run a junior pro surf team, which boasted in its ranks Jack Johnston who has since focused his attention to a new career as a singer/songwriter.  She also knows Kelly Slater, which Dominic was very impressed with.  Her father still coaches top professionals and her mother stills surfs even with a disability of only having one leg.  The lesson was held in a nice, secluded bay, away from the crashing waves that the North Shore is famous for.  Dominic’s second venture into the water was out in open seas and was his first time out without either a parent or instructor close by.  He coped very well and was totally oblivious to his anxious parents shore-side.  We actually wanted to base ourselves on the North Shore but accommodation is hard to find and what is available is very expensive.

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While the weather was good we spent some quality time on Waikiki beach.  It was jammed, a far cry from the beaches we experienced in Costa Rica.  We had a breakthrough with Callum on Waikiki.  It was at this beach that he finally put his head underwater and surprise, surprise, loved it.

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A straightforward public bus ride out to Hanauma Bay for some snorkeling was well received by the boys.  Callum didn’t get the snorkel or mask on but he waded out to waist deep and saw plenty of brightly coloured fish.  Dominic was out exploring the coral and the marine life and returned to the sand with stories of what he’d seen.  Hanauma Bay is a fantastic spot for a day trip.  It’s easy to get to from Waikiki, free for the kids and has plenty of snorkeling gear to rent for the day.  The water is a brilliant, clear blue and warm but there was a jellyfish warning on the day we were there.  Luckily there were no incidents to report.

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After our shopping extravaganza in LA, Trina had the spending bug and dragged us all off to the Ala Moana Centre for another day of ringing the cash register.  She managed to assist the state of Hawaii with the use of some of our tourist dollar but nothing on the scale of LA.  The outlet stores in California are a much better option for shopping and bargain hunting.

Kailua Beach is noted for being one of the most beautiful beaches in America and it certainly lived up to its reputation.  The beach is well worth the 45-minute drive from Waikiki and has a very gradual entry into the calm, warm water so it’s perfect for kids.  The sand is golden and although busy you didn’t feel overly crowded.

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I don’t pretend to understand American Football but have always been keen to see a game live.  The NFL ProBowl game is the annual end of season game made up of NFL stars (apart from the ones playing in the following weeks SuperBowl).  Tickets were averagely priced at USD55 each so we thought we’d go along and watch.  What a disappointment.  Firstly it rained then the main event turned into a non-event.  The game was a stop/start affair that never got going.  The actual game time is one hour but can run into nearer three hours with all the mucking about.  We found that the game failed to hold our attention and as we switched off we would miss the next play.  There was very little in the way of big hits or any excitement.  The nature of the match-up was one of game of tag, perhaps due to the fact that none of the players wanted to risk injury and damage their highly lucrative club contracts on a game that meant nothing.  After following rugby and rugby league there is no contest as far as a spectator sport in my mind.  Any sport that stops so dancing can take place will struggle to win any affection in my heart.  We couldn’t even drink to dull the pain.  At USD11 a beer it would have been a very expensive hangover (it was strange seeing Speights on tap there though – good on ya mate).  We left after the third quarter, despondent and wet.  It wasn’t just us that couldn’t appreciate the game.  I was sitting beside a guy from Melbourne who kept shaking his head saying “give me AFL anyday”.

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Our final day on the island involved a trip to Pearl Harbour.  My pre-depature research (this time and for the first time on this trip was 100% bang-on – redemption!) had informed us that to see the actual USS Arizona memorial (the memorial right over the sunken ship) involved either taking an organized tour (pricey and a very long day) or booking your free tickets on-line and making your own way out there by public bus.  We took option two however once on-line we found that the first available tickets were for mid-February.  We decided to head out there anyway as you can still visit and climb on-board the submarine, USS Bowfin and the battleship USS Missouri.  The Missouri was the ship that Japan signed their surrender of World War Two.  On deck that day of surrender was General Douglas MacArthur so we were standing in the shadows of history.  The boys loved exploring both the battleship and the submarine, seeing all the weaponry, the sleeping quarters and how the sailors lived.  We also had a lucky outcome for the USS Arizona.  We approached the ticket office and managed to secure tickets easily.  We saw a movie about the attack, how it happened and why Japan wanted to bring the US into the war, followed by a boat ride out to the monument.   Parts of the ship are clearly visible and the oil is still very slowly leaking out (in fact at the slow rate it is coming out it will continue to leak for the next 75 years).  You can see why Pearl Harbour is Hawaii’s number one tourist attraction.  It’s fascinating, informative and very well run by both the national parks service and the military.

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Waikiki was a pretty good option for the final stage of our adventure.  Two weeks was too long and towards the end we were looking forward to leaving.  This may have been a factor of the weather, a mindset that we were almost home, comparing Waikiki to the amazing beach towns of Costa Rica (which it can never compete with), our aversion to mass tourism or a combination of them all.

Time to go home – happy or sad to finish our great adventure?  We’ll see.


Los Angeles – Retail nirvana

Leaving Costa Rica really felt like we were on our way home, but there was still time to fit in a couple stops on the way.  We chose to stop in Los Angeles for a few days really just to break up the flight home, and now that we were at the end of the trip we could upsize our luggage allowance.  Some retail therapy was called for.

To get to LA we needed to go via Dallas and clear immigration there.  Dallas serves as a major hub into the US and local flights then leave from there.  The queue for customs was very long (1 ½ hours) and we only just made our connecting flight.  Upon arrival in LA we discovered one of our bags did in fact miss the flight.  Modern technology soon confirmed that the bag was on a later flight so we had a two-hour wait at the airport for it to arrive.  This made for a very very long day for the kids but they coped admirably.

We then headed to our rental car pick-up and quickly realized that booking a rental car direct with the company is an expensive mistake as they sting you for over-the-top insurances.  We normally arrange our car hire through an intermediary like rentalcars.com or hotwire.com and have never had a problem.  Anyway, car collected and about $200 out of pocket we were on our way north to Camarillo, the mecca of outlet store shopping.

Camarillo Premium Outlet is a monster.  It boasts 160 stores and you could (well, Trina could) spend weeks there.  Luckily for me, I had the boys as an excuse to limit the time to a mere two full days.  After spending the past two months in Costa Rica and away from any form of retail therapy Trina was like a kid in a candy shop.  The look on her face as we pulled into the carpark was one of sheer delight; mine was of dread and concern.  The boys also knew what was coming and were not overly pleased.  Two brand new suitcases later (completely chocker) and enough dollars spent to cover the Gross Domestic Product of a small third world country, we had to reward two very well behaved boys with a day at a theme park.

The drive from Camarillo to Anaheim allowed us to take the fantastic ocean road through Malibu and Santa Monica – it really is one of the worlds great drives.  Not only for the ocean views but some of the houses are amazing.

As we had already been to Orlando and experienced the Disney and Universal theme parks there we opted for California Land, which is basically an extension of Disneyland just with different rides.  The highlight of this park was Cars Land, which is an exact replica of the “Cars” movie town “Radiator Springs”.  It really did feel like you were in the movie walking around it.  The pick of the rides was the Cars Radiator Springs Racers but it was busy.  At one stage we saw the wait time was 90 minutes (all for a five minute ride) – crazy!  Luckily from our time in Orlando we were familiar with the “fastpass” system so our wait on this particular ride wasn’t too bad.  We also enjoyed a ride called Soaring California, which is a simulated gliding ride over the highlights of the state.  It was amazing and really showcased just what a diverse and fantastic holiday destination California is.

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Our final day in LA involved a trip to see the Hollywood sign and lunch at Venice Beach.  It was a shame that the view of the sign and the city was impaired by the infamous LA smog.  The boys enjoyed seeing the posers at Muscle Beach but Venice Beach really is a dirty spot.  The public toilets were a disgrace and the tacky souvenir shops coupled with plenty of “medicinal” weed shops all made for a pretty ordinary detour.  It’s funny how your outlook can change as you get older.  Trina and I were at Venice Beach 13-years ago and had a great day sitting at a beachside bar drinking beers and watching the world go by.  Now with kids in tow, we couldn’t wait to leave.

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A 5.30am wake-up call to catch our second to last flight and we said “later” to LA and “aloha” to Hawaii.


Nosara – Into the groove in Guiones

The Internet has a knack for painting a picture that doesn’t quite live up to reality.  This was evidence in proof upon our arrival to our house in Playa Guiones, which was our base for the next month.  The house was very small, a bit tired and in need of some TLC.  A gang of bats hanging from the outside wall was also there to greet us on our arrival.  Our initial feelings were one of disappointment.  Things improved however once we aired the place out and gave it a good clean, unpacked our clothes and filled the kitchen cupboards after a massive grocery shop.  This was going to be home for the next month and we soon made it comfortable and although on the small side we did have an option for outdoor eating which was fine.  Dinner outside also bought some wildlife to the table.  We had regular visits from raccoons, a possum and monkeys in the trees behind.

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The Nosara area is made up of three beaches, Playa Guiones, Playa Pelada and Playa Garza and a small township which is about 5km inland from the beaches providing the basic necessities.  Our beach (Playa Guiones) was the pick of the bunch and with the house a short stroll away from the beach and right next door to a Gilded Iguana Hotel and Restaurant (which allowed us to use their pool whenever we wanted) the location couldn’t be beaten.  Playa Guiones is a beautiful beach with perfect waves to satisfy all levels.  The one downside was the stingray population which nestle themselves in the sand.  We were warned to do the “stingray shuffle” when walking in the water.  This maneuver would (should) keep us nice and sting-free.

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Playa Guiones has it’s own little village (separate to the Nosara township). It is far from developed (ie no large hotel or food chains) but there is sufficient choice of small boutique hotels, cafes and eateries/bars.  It’s predominately American whether they be permanent residents or just passing through and it was very noticeable on our arrival that we wouldn’t be needing to rely on our rudimentary Spanish at all while we were here. Over the course of the month we met plenty of people, most with young families.  Some were travelling for the long-term.  One family we met had been on the road for over three years, homeschooling their kids.  It was great having a chat to people with really varied lifestyles and outlooks towards life and living.

We immediately set about getting settled in with a purchase of a secondhand surfboard for Dominic and a month’s rental of a mountain bike for me.  That was our exercise taken care of and Trina had a nice, long beach to run along each day so we were all happy.  Our other neighbor was a surf instructor, who had the fabulous moniker of Juan Surfo.  The boys were very keen to meet this local surf legend so we arranged a lesson for Dominic for the next day.  Once again, he impressed his tutor with his ability on the board.

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Our days pretty much blended into one.  The routine went something like this (subject to a change in order depending on the all important tides):

Wake up

Breakfast

Homework

Lunch

David off for a ride

Beach

Trina off for a run

Afternoon drinks at the Iguana pool-bar and walk to beach to catch the sunset

Dinner

Bed

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And on it went.  It was a nice life!  The bike riding was an excellent way to explore the surrounding areas.  It was sometimes a dusty old ride though with the roads continuing the Costa Rica love affair with dirt.  The local solution for the dust was to pour molasses (by hand, I hasten to add) over part of the road and upon drying you’d have a type of useable roading system.  The downside of this policy was that during the drying process the roads were wet and sticky and not ideal for the jandal, which constantly got left behind in the goo.

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Our first Friday night in town was rodeo night.  This was a ramshackle operation with little concern for health and safety.  In fact, the locals were encouraged to get liquored up and then hop into the ring with the single aim to touch the rump of the bulls.  We saw one poor soul get smashed, much to the delight of Dominic and Callum.  We stayed until the halftime interval but by then the novelty of carnage had started to wear off and because they didn’t start until about 2 hours after they were supposed to, it was getting too late for everybody.  It was a classic case of Tico time.

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Our social scene mainly involved heading to the Gilded Iguana for either a meal or a drink and listening to the live acts they put on twice a week.  It is was a popular hangout and after a while we became quite the regulars.  The boys were already well known in the area especially Dominic who had acquired plenty of admirers whilst out on his surfboard.  Strangers who couldn’t believe that he’d only been surfing for a month and that he was only seven-years old constantly approached us.

Christmas was quickly upon us.  Santa (clever man!) had found out that the boys had left New Zealand and delivered the required presents to the dark red house with no street address but beside the hotel.  It was a nice change to have a low- key festive season.  No Christmas carols in the malls, no advertising to be seen and no crazy rushing around. You’d be hard pressed to know Christmas was even on in Playa Guiones.  A Christmas turkey dinner was had at a local restaurant and that was that.  New Years Eve involved a band at the Gilded Iguana and a few drinks with Juan Surfo.  The boys were wrapped to stay up to 12.30.

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I’m not a fisherman but Dominic is always on at me to take him fishing.  This was the perfect opportunity to hire a charter so we headed out for a morning on the water.  The thrill of the catch was soon experienced and for three hours we caught eight fish.  Unfortunately all of the trophies were not of the decent eating variety so were promptly returned to freedom.  Success was just around the corner.  As we turned for home we caught two Mahi-Mahi at once.  That was dinner sorted for a few nights.  Also on our sea adventure we spotted a pod of dolphins and a huge Manta Ray so a very enjoyable mornings work.

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To throw a bit of variety into our day we rented a car and drove to the beach to the town of Samara, which is about 25kms from home.  We were almost there when we came across a very deep looking river crossing.  We quickly decided that our vehicle couldn’t traverse the waterway and turned around.  Just as we did this we passed a car from the car rental company we used and he quickly showed us how to get across – talk about perfect timing!  In a two-wheel drive we didn’t think it could be done but sure enough, we were over.  Samara itself wasn’t a touch on Playa Guiones so we didn’t stay long.

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Our second to last day and we took to the water for our last swim and surf.  By this time we were pretty blasé about the stingrays and the treat they posed, so I started to stroll in and whack.  A sting barb right on the foot – painful doesn’t begin to describe it.  A quick dash home and into hot, hot water for 60 minutes and all was well again.  Could have been a lot worse so I was lucky.  A quick Google search highlighted much more serious effects of such an attack.  I was also pleased that it wasn’t Dominic that had copped it.

Our month came and went quickly.  We had two days to fill in before our flight out of Costa Rica so we headed north to Tamarindo.  After spending the last few weeks in a relatively quiet beach town we were immediately struck by the amount of traffic and people.  We had heard about Playa Conchal which was just outside of Tamarindo so headed there and weren’t disappointed.  The sea was a perfect blue and had the added bonus of huge crashing waves dispensing a quite incredible volume of water.  The boys loved getting smashed back into shore.

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Comparing all the beaches we’ve stayed at in Costa Rica and the ones we had initially considered for our month stay, we couldn’t have chosen better than Playa Guiones.  The area had a fantastic laid-back vibe to it.  Yoga, exercise and surfing are the key ingredients here all washed down with a cold Imperial and a yarn – perfect.

After a leisurely five-hour drive to San Jose our time in Costa Rica had come to an end.  Time to start making our way home, slowly.


Santa Teresa – A four-hour drive for sushi

Prior to arriving in Costa Rica we had decided that we’d spend a month in one part of the country.  We would rent a house, unpack and do nothing.  Of the options we researched Santa Teresa was one possibility (which was my preferred option), along with Dominical and Nosara.  We eventually settled on Nosara so it was going to be interesting to see what Santa Teresa had to offer and to see if our decision made many miles away was the correct one.

After leaving Arenal, we had a relatively straightforward journey to catch the ferry at Puntarenas.  Unfortunately as we drove into this dusty old port town we saw our boat departing.  We had just missed the sailing by a mere ten-minutes.  We now had three hours to kill until the next ferry.  Puntarenas isn’t flash.  It’s a port town with a strong fishing industry.  It was interesting to see a big cruise-liner docked at the wharf.  Heaven knows what the passengers would want to see here for an afternoon – it was hardly a Love Boat destination.  We fretted about what we were going to do to fill in the time but luckily the good folk of Puntarenas had recently built a very nice swimming pool complex right next door to the ferry terminal, which suited our needs perfectly.

We caught the next ferry, which was a 70-minute journey over the Gulf of Nicoya and then a 90-minute drive across the southern part of the Nicoya Peninsula to our destination, Santa Teresa.

Santa Teresa itself is a long stretch of main road, pot-holed and dusty.  There is plenty of stylish accommodation, creative eating and drinking options and is a town that caters for the young surfer-type.  We actually felt a tad old here – there were very few families around.  It’s a young, cool destination and I’m neither young nor cool (I know – gasp!).  Everyone is chilled and relaxed.

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The villa that we rented was fantastic.  Perched high up in the hills offering breathtaking views over the Pacific Ocean and of the setting sun all enjoyed on the terrace lying in a hammock with a drink whilst being serenaded by the call of howler monkeys in the nearby bush.  Paradise.

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We did venture down to the beach for a swim but surfing is the be all and end all here.  The waves here are for a more experienced surfer so not ideal for Dominic who is still very much learning the sport (even though he thinks he is Kelly Slater).

One of the reasons Santa Teresa appealed to me as a destination was Koji’s Sushi Shack.  I had read about Koji’s back in New Zealand and the rave reviews received demanded a meal there.  Even after deciding we weren’t going to spend our month in Santa Teresa I was still keen to visit, Koji’s was a real draw card for the area.  The restaurant was located at the end of the very bumpy main road but worth every bone-jarring pothole.  The food was fantastic with incredibly fresh and tasty tuna and red snapper sashimi and delicious sushi rolls, all complimented by some of the best service we have experienced on our travels.  The location added to the experience, al fresco dining accentuated by candlelight and a very good playlist in the background.  Japanese perfection all washed down with some delicious product from a local microbrewery.

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If I was 20 years younger with no kids and knew how to surf then Santa Teresa would be almost heavenly.  As much as we liked it here we were glad we are not spending a whole month here.  Nosara is going to suit us better (I think/hope!)

Travelling to Nosara required some rethinking from our initial plan, which was to drive the entire way up the coast from Santa Teresa, passing through a number of nice beaches.  Google Maps said this route was nice and easy which was only a short jaunt up a scenic coastal road.  Luckily for us we decided to get some advise from the locals who told us different.  The coast road is treacherous with a couple of river crossings that at this time of the year (just out of rainy season) would not be able to be crossed – especially in a rental car.  With that, our only option was to backtrack a couple of hours and follow the main road on the other side of the peninsular.  Had we known this we probably wouldn’t have bothered going to Santa Teresa at all.  Never mind, last minute changes to travel plans are all part and parcel of this great adventure and at least the sushi was as worth the drive.


La Fortuna – Room with a view (sometimes)

The road between Santa Elena and La Fortuna made the road into Santa Elena look and feel like State Highway One.  We spent the first 37 kilometres, which took one and a half hours, trying to avoid huge craters and making sure we didn’t slide off the side of the road.  Luckily after kilometre 37 things improved and it was plain sailing to our next destination, La Fortuna and Arenal Volcano.

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We stumbled upon a microbrewery for lunch and were immediately set upon by an American women who informed us she was there to arrange some sort of retreat for a group of people next February.  I took that to mean an orgy and immediately dismissed her as a crackpot and paid her no further courtesy until she mentioned Nigerian Dwarf Milking Goats.  Now, the word dwarf pricked my ears up (I love anything associated with little people) so I started to pay her some attention and we ended up having a decent chat about home-schooling (which she is doing with her daughter), travel (which she does a lot of) and milking Nigerian Dwarf Milking Goats (which she is breeding), that apparently produce excellent cheese.  My hunch on the orgy theme was confirmed however when she invited all and sundry to a swim in the pool with clothing very much optional (bear in mind, it was midday).  We declined the offer, quickly finished our lunch and high-tailed it out of there.  I would have been disappointed to draw her keys out of the bowl – she wouldn’t have stopped talking!

The drive around Laguna de Arenal (Arenal Lake) was a stunning drive.  Dotted with boutique art shops and cafes, mainly owned by ex-pats from around the globe.

A brief history of Volcan Arenal:  Prior to 29 July 1968 the area was best described as “sleepy”, then boom!  After nearly 400 years of dormancy the volcano violently erupted destroying a whole town, and continued to erupt regularly up until 2010, much to the delight of tourism operators.  Tourists flocked to the area like moths to a flame to see the volcanic activity.  Even though there haven’t been regular eruptions for a few years the area still offers all kinds of activities for the visitor and it’s all based around the perfectly conical shaped volcano.

La Fortuna town itself is pleasant enough with a very nice grassy square to hang out in, and it is home to the best mochachino in the world.  Thank you My Coffee for providing the perfect brew, which has been difficult to come across on our travels.  We went there everyday for our caffeine/choco fix.  It was here that Trina and Dominic saw a video presentation of a zip-line adventure that looked more suited to a seven year old and a pretty nervous Mum.  A couple of days later it was conquered safe and sound with two smiling faces at the end.  It was not nearly as adrenaline pumped as the Santa Elena offering which was cancelled due to inclement weather.  This ride incorporated 15 platforms and 13 cables with the longest one being 430 metres, and rather than being miles up in the sky this zip line went through and just atop of the tree canopy.

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We stayed at the Arenal Lodge, which was about a 10-minute drive from La Fortuna.  The hotel promised breathtaking views of the mountain.  What the hotels propaganda omitted was that for most of the time the volcano is shrouded in cloud cover.  In fact, it was only on the last day we were here that we actually saw the volcano in all its glory (it’s spectacular, by the way).

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My adventure for this part of the trip was a 30-kilometre mountain-bike ride in the pouring rain over gravel roads around the base of the volcano culminating with a swim in a roadside hot-water stream.  The benefit of an eruption is plenty of natural hot pools to sooth a sore backside.

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Speaking of hot pools, we descended upon Baldi Hot Springs for an afternoon.  It was pricey at USD100 for us all but well worth it.  Baldi boasts 30 pools of varying hotness (a couple were bloody hot), some water-slides and a couple of swim-up bars.  If we lost Dominic we knew where to head – he was at the swim-up bar ordering fruit smoothies on our tab.  The pools and facilities were spotless.

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A visit to the wildlife refuge was also a worthwhile excursion.  We saw crocodiles (something the boys had wanted to see since day one).  One had a massive chunk missing from its jaw as a result of a fight.  Plenty of snakes and the elusive Red-Eyed Frog, which we were lucky enough to not only to see in an enclosure but also our guide found one out in the wild.  They are amazing looking creatures and so iconic to Costa Rica that they are featured on the cover of the Lonely Planet Costa Rica guide.  The Red-Eyed Frog has the uncanny ability to change colour so whilst it’s asleep it’s green but when woken the back of the legs turn blue and the eyes change to red – hence the clever name.

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Wildlife is abundant as it is everywhere in Costa Rica.  Even a simple drive along a main road can reward you with great experiences like this family of coatis.

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Our four days here was very enjoyable.  It offered a mix of adventure, nature and of course, the perfect mountain.  Time now though for some beach action, apparently Dominic will die if he doesn’t surf soon.


Santa Elena – High in the clouds

The one thing we didn’t want to do on our drive north from Orosi Valley to Santa Elena was have to drive through downtown San Jose.  The thing that we did do on our drive from Orosi Valley to Santa Elena was drive through downtown San Jose.  Costa Rica’s resistance to road signs brought upon this unwanted detour – there aren’t any, anywhere!

San Jose is a dump – simple as that.  It’s busy, really busy.  People everywhere, walking out in front of you and displaying no concern for self-preservation.  Cars all over the place paying no adherence to any road rules nor commonsense and the city itself is based on a one-way grid system, which is bloody confusing.  Oh, and we didn’t have a decent map.  Luckily for us, the world’s best navigator was sitting beside me and we finally managed to escape the madness and continue to the mountains.

Once we were on the open road it took about four hours to get from San Jose to Santa Elena.  Three hours of this was on a pretty decent road for Costa Rica standards and the last hour was on a pot-holed, dirt road, which made for a bumpy finale.   We knew the roads were going to be bad heading into Santa Elena so we were anxious to get there before it got dark.  Lucky for us we arrived just before that time.

The town itself is set high amidst the cloud forest (don’t get confused with a rain forest – there are differences, not particularly exciting differences but differences) and offers plenty of hiking, wildlife spotting and rain – plenty of rain.

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We had four nights here and the plan was to do some walks and a zip-line, which is basically throwing yourself off a platform, secured by a wire and harness, flying through the air at pace and hopefully landing on another platform and so on for about 15 platforms.  All of this is done many metres above the forest canopy.  Obviously with Callum being of a reserved nature this particular activity was not high on his wish list of things to do in Costa Rica.  I was also quick to volunteer to stay with him while Trina and Dominic booked in for the experience.  Unfortunately the weather turned on us and they had to close the zip line (not sure if Trina was disappointed or happy about that!)  We did manage a cable car ride up through the clouds following a decent four-kilometer walk over some hanging bridges.  Five bridges in total and of varying heights and lengths kept two boys enthused and entertained.

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Still on the walking theme, we did about a five-kilomtere hike to a waterfall through the Monteverde National Park, where we were rewarded with a rare spotting of a Queztal bird.  The Quetzal is quintessential Costa Rica and a real find.  The walk itself was nice and easy with some well-maintained walkways so the boys managed without too much complaining about another walk through another forest, blah, blah, blah.

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The highlight from our visit to Santa Elena was a night walk.  It was only a short walk but through pretty dense forest and only supported by flashlights, which the boys loved.  Immediately we were treated to a sloth sighting, not one but two.  As a rule, sloths sleep for 20 hours each day so it’s rare to see them moving but we were lucky enough to see them active and indeed watch one of them scale a phone line immediately above us.  We also encountered a couple of vipers (much to Dominic’s delight who is now snake mad), some scorpions and a tarantula.  It was a great adventure in pitch darkness.

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So far throughout our travels we have been lucky with the weather but the days spent at Santa Elena were wet, not that we were surprised as our research had pre-warned us of average weather in the area, so that restricted our activities somewhat.  It was ok though as we did achieve most of what we wanted to do plus got to spend some time with the boys and their schoolwork.  We’ll have another chance at zip-lining at our next stop, La Fortuna.


Orosi Valley – Wake up and smell the coffee

Heading inland from Uvita involved a massive climb.  We estimated that we drove about 45 minutes straight up; the peak we crossed was 3491 metres above sea level.  It was a long and windy road, finally popping out above the cloud cover.  The road was in pretty average condition and this is one of the main routes in Costa Rica!

Upon our arrival to our hotel we were greeted with this view:

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The Orosi Valley is just south of San Jose and made for an excellent stopover as we headed north.  We allowed two nights here to visit an organic coffee farm and to drive a well-known 60-kilometre scenic route through the valley.

The first stop on our scenic drive was in perfect time for morning tea.  Orosi itself is a very nice little village and the starting point for many bike riders to tackle the same route we were driving.  It also boasts the oldest colonial church in Costa Rica and a couple of very decent options for a coffee, both owned by Europeans.  After re-fueling we continued around the lake and stumbled upon a swing bridge, which traversed a free-flowing river.  For a minimal donation we were able to walk over this decent sized structure and admire the view.  It was then off to check out the largest dam in Costa Rica.  This dam supplies San Jose with its water requirements.  I put on my “Dad knows everything hat” and proceeded to bluff my way through the inner workings of the dam and hydro-electricity in general.   As the valley is in coffee country, the drive meandered through coffee plantations and followed the waterway.  It was a great drive in beautiful countryside.

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The main purpose of our detour to the valley was Finca Cristina.  The farm was established in the late 1970s by an American couple and they have been pioneering organic coffee since.  They are also advocates for the industry in Costa Rica.  The two hour guided tour around their farm by the owner, Linda, was a fascinating insight into organics and the process of coffee growing from the initial planting of the fruit to the roasting followed of course by some tasting of their delicious product.  Although Trina and I are both coffee drinkers we didn’t really understand the process so we learnt a lot and even the boys took something away with them, so a very beneficial couple of hours spent.

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It was a short stop and was thoroughly enjoyed.  Stunning scenery, a couple of playgrounds for the boys to get stuck into and superb coffee for the grown-ups.


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