Costa Rica - A Little Time in Paradise

I can never resist posting a travelogue after a vacation.  This is one trip I definitely need to talk about (and will likely want to keep talking about for a long time).  It seems like from the time we booked the trip to going was an interminable wait, but the vacation itself, like all vacations, ended all too quickly.  I highly recommend Rancho Pacifico as a vacation destination.  It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever stayed.

Day 1+  - This was meant to be a family vacation with Dad and Beth, and Beth's mother Claire, and Claire's aid Ruth.  Dad had told us that the flight departure time on Sunday kept going back and forth between 3:45 and 4:00.  He suggested we meet at the terminal at 12:30 and we would all check in and go to the gate together.  We were there at the appointed time, but when we arrived Dad called and said he was still home and leaving in a half hour.  We had a very long boring wait as there is nothing to do outside of security at this terminal.   They finally arrived an hour later.  When they arrived Beth fell getting off her scooter after they left their taxi.  She said she hoped it wasn't a harbinger of things to come.  I told her the worst is over and everything would be better from there.  Little did we know what was in store.  At least at the time being with Beth and Claire meant a faster check in and priority boarding.

Our flight to San Jose was delayed an hour on the runway due to the cold and snow.  That wasn't a big deal.  We were eventually in the air and it wasn't horribly late when we arrived in San Jose.  I can't begin to describe how happy I was when I stepped outside the terminal without wearing a coat.  We had finally left the freezing winter behind.  We stayed at a local Holiday Inn and looked forward to our flight to Quepos, where a staff member from Rancho Pacifco would be taking us to the journey's end.

Our flight the next morning was on a tiny puddle jumper - the tiniest plane I have ever flown on.  We had a great view flying over the mountains, but it was a bit scary whenever the plane hit a bump.  It felt very vulnerable. The Quepos airport was just a single runway flanked by Palm trees on either side.  The terminal was like a big hut (although it contained two reservation counters, a lounge area, and a full concession stand with a bar, so it had everything any airport needs).   We had to wait a bit, but Alex, the RP head chef and manager eventually came to pick us up.

It was about a 45 minute drive to the resort and we drove along some beautiful coastal roads.  As we neared the resort, Alex asked us what our favorite drinks were as we were all joking about needing a drink after that harrowing flight.  The next thing we know he's calling the bartender with our drink orders.  That was our first taste of how extraordinary the service at Rancho Pacifico is.

We drove through the resort town of Uvita to the mountain road that would take us to RP.  It was steep, winding, and incredibly rough.  It's unpaved and full of rocks.  I would have hated to be the one driving because I would always worry that the car wouldn't make it up the hill.  Although you can rent a car and drive yourself, it's better to have someone else drive up that hill!

The Whale's Tail is the central hub of RP containing the bar, restaurant, lounge, and concierge desk.  The main pool, cabana, and jacuzzi are right outside of it.  It's all open air with views of ocean below. The main focal point is Marino Ballena or "Whale Coast" which is a sandbar that terminates in a reef that resembles a whale's tail.  Opposite the ocean are beautiful rain-forest covered mountains.

Beth had not been happy to learn that there were steps to reach the entrance of her room.  Although the clubhouse was not far from our rooms, it is on several levels with steps everywhere.  She began to wonder if she would be able to get around.

Before lunch we met the owner, Garrison, and we had a bit of a conference regarding Beth's situation. They had never dealt with a disabled guest before and truly did not have the resources to deal with it.  He said the staff would do everything they could to be accommodating and we would hope for the best.  We found out that at 93, Claire was the oldest person ever to stay there.  Dad was a little miffed because when he had called to make the arrangements, the staff had informed him that Beth's mobility issues would not be a problem.  I think they really didn't know.  

We had our lunch.  Our cocktails were just what we ordered in the car.  It was the best margarita I ever had.

I had spent way too much time sitting for the past twenty-four hours, so I decided to explore one of RP's two main hiking trails after we had unpacked.  I chose the cloud forest trail that winds it's way steeply up the mountain.  Supposedly if you go long enough you will get to the top.  I went pretty far, but I never saw the top of the mountain.   I can be a little compulsive on hikes like this.  I tend to keep wanting to see what is around the next corner and just clinmb a little bit higher.  Every time I told myself "I'll stop at the next plateau," I would find myself seeing the next wind of the trail and decide to just go around that one.  Still, my legs eventually gave out before I made it to the top.  It was slow going back down.  I did manage to see some mountain views as well as a flock of toucans who refused to pose for photos.

We all met later on for dinner.  Beth informed us that after the fall at the airport  and then trying to walk around the property, she was in too much pain.  She knew she could not enjoy a vacation in a place where she could not move around easily.  Even the spa that she had looked forward to required walking down a series of ramps and staircases.  They made arrangements to fly home the next day.  They didn't even do the connecting flight at Quepos.  They opted to spend the hundreds of dollars to be driven directly to San Jose, which meant leaving at around 3:30 AM.  They lost so much money on the rooms (RP is too remote to easily rebook them) and they didn't even stay a full day.  We heard them leaving in the middle of the night.  At breakfast they were gone.  Kevin and I were on our own and stuck with the guilt that we were having a vacation on Dad's dime and the family would not be there to enjoy it with us.

We did at least enjoy our last dinner.  We met more of the staff members, all of whom personally introduced themselves and made an effort to learn our names as well.  We also enjoyed more of the wonderful cocktails.  Vianney, the bartender is a master at his craft.  

Day 2 -The jungle certainly is noisy at sunrise!  The birds and howler monkeys are like a natural alarm clock.  It's a happy fact that I'm a morning person.  I made a ritual of going out to my balcony and watch the sunlight begin to touch the mountain, fill the valley, and eventually make its way out to the ocean (all of which were visible from my balcony).

The mountain opposite my balcony appeared completely undeveloped.  I saw no roads, trails, or buildings.  The forest was a complete dark mystery.  I wondered how many humans had penetrated it and what they saw.  How easily did they move around? The valley below looked bottomless and unreachable.  There is so much life in the jungle - from underneath the ground to the tops of the towering trees.  I was only looking at it all from a distance, seeing a bigger picture.  Every morning was a chance to see how much of the jungle would present itself to me.  

Once Kevin was awake and we were ready to start the day together, we had to make the best of it despite the guilt and despite missing our family.  We enjoyed our breakfast and began making our plans for excursions in the coming days.  Adriana the concierge was another extraordinary staff member who bent over backwards to assist us all week.  We started by making arrangements for horseback riding on the beach that afternoon.  That gave me the morning to simply lounge by the pool (after working out in the gym before breakfast of course).  When Adriana saw me come out dressed in a pink sarong, sun hat, and sunglasses, she remarked that she was glad to see me finally allow myself to be on vacation.

Our beach ride was right before sunset.  We were assigned some sturdy, attentive, reliable horses.  I love having chances like this to ride a trail horse whom I can truly depend on out in the open.  We walked through some forest and finally to the beach at Playa Hermosa.  Our guides said if we were comfortable we could let our horses go.  Once I had the guts to let my horse gallop, I found it addicting.  My horse Chantal was a little lazy and tended to want to do it in short bursts, but he (yes he) was always willing for another round when asked.  It was exhilarating.  I have always wanted to gallop on the beach - a Costa Rican beach in particular.

At the end of the ride, we were rewarded with a gorgeous sunset.  It felt like a perfect afternoon and I think I had officially given myself permission to enjoy my vacation.

Day 3 -  This morning we headed to the Sierpe River for a boat tour of the mangroves.  They call this the "National Geographic" tour, although I'm not sure why.  It was a private boat that moved slowly through the mangroves while our guide Enoch pointed out the various forms of wildlife.  We saw all kinds of unique birds, three types of monkeys (capuchin, howler, and squirrel monkey), a snake and even a crocodile and a caiman.  It was a wildlife lovers's paradise.

We returned to RP mid afternoon and just hung out.  I had a massage at their beautiful open air spa.  It's small, but it is very high quality.  Marco is a massage genius.

We found we really liked hanging out at the bar before dinner.  We could taste any number of Vianney's cocktail creations and there was always a steady supply of bar snacks.  During our time at the bar, we befriended a couple, Neil and Johanna, from Westchester who had previously resided in Mamaroneck before recently moving to Purchase.

Day 4 - Today we booked a full day at Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula.  This area is only reachable by boat.  We met our guide, Cesar at the Ballena beach where we boarded the boat.  This was not a boat ride for the faint of heart (or stomach).  The boat was small and the water was rough.  The boat sped along at an incredible clip, rising up with the swells and literally slamming back down.  I joked that it was the aquatic equivalent of the dirt road leading to RP.

The ride paid off in two ways.  First we did some whale and dolphin spotting.  We saw a female humpback whale and her baby.  We also came across a school of spotted dolphins.  Both were beautiful.

The second way it paid off was in Corcovado itself.  It is such a beautiful place.  We landed at the Corcovado beach, recovered from the boat ride at the ranger station, and headed out for our morning hike with Cesar.  We walked along the breathtaking shoreline spotting birds and other animals (including a family of the raccoon-like coati) and then into the coastal jungle.

We returned to the ranger station for lunch and a brief period of rest.  I lay down in the grass and just sat and listened to the sounds of the jungle on my left and the sound of the shore on my right.  I told Kevin to take a picture of me so I could always have such a memory of a "happy place".

After lunch we hiked deeper in the jungle.  We walked along some cliff side trails (some were a bit steep and not for those prone to vertigo) and deep into the jungle where we saw sloths, howlers, and spider monkeys.  The walk ended at a waterfall.  On our return walk we stopped at a spot in the river that contained a perfect little swimming hole.  The water was cold, but perfectly refreshing.  I found myself just wanting to float on my back and stare up at the blue sky and green forest canopy.

After such a beautiful day we reluctantly returned to the ranger station and back to the boat.  I told Cesar he could just leave me there at Corcovado, but somehow I ended up back on the boat.  Oh well.  RP is not a bad place to return to!

The day ended as usual with more fun and conversation at the bar, more of Vianney's creative cocktails, and more of Alex's delicious food and an early bedtime, ready for the next adventure.

Day 5 - We started the morning early with a workout before breakfast.  After breakfast we decided to keep our adventures local.  I had hiked the trail up the mountain.  Today we would go into the valley and hike down to the RP waterfall.

This was a pretty intense hike.  We had to walk down a very steep trail.  At one point the trail became too steep to walk normally.  There were ropes at the side of the path and we had to sort of half-rappel down.  Once we reached the bottom, we found a peaceful paradise.  The waterfall was beautiful and had a small pool at the base to splash around in.  I wished we had brought a picnic lunch and a book. I would have liked to have stayed down there for a few hours.  We hiked back up pretty soon after we came down though.  Once we were back up the ropes we had to take a different trail loop back up.  It was a long, hard, climb.

The whole trip only took about two hours and it was barely lunch time.  We had a very long afternoon ahead so us.  I spent quite a bit of time at the pool, but I Iove swimming laps and the pool is too small for that.  You can cross the length of the pool is 6 strokes of the crawl and 7 of the breast stroke. They have an infinity pool that is in a nice private little deck, but it's even smaller and way too sunny.  I sat around too much and ended up a bit sunburned.  I am a pretty religious sunscreen user, but if you have never traveled at that latitude before, you don't really realize how much stronger the sun is.  We were barely north of the Equator.  I spent the afternoon just hanging out in the cabana, complaining of boredom and reminding myself that being bored in Costa Rica, surrounded by the jungle and ocean, in warm sunny weather, was far preferable to being in the cold of New York and having to go to work.

Day 6  - I really wanted to do some snorkeling on this trip, but Kevin isn't into that.  I so rarely ever have a chance to go snorkeling in tropical regions and didn't want to miss the one opportunity I'm likely to have for a very long time.  Kevin relented and was willing to spend a day apart so I could take an excursion on my own.  I wanted to take a boat ride to Cano Island, which supposedly has some of the best snorkeling and diving in Costa Rica, but the tour compny needs a minimum number of people and no one else was signing up for it that weekend.  Adriana suggested a half day tour that was going out that concentrated on more whale and dolphin watching, but also included some snorkeling at the Ballena reef.  It was the same tour company we went with to Corcovado.  Cesar was our guide again.  He didn't remember me from that tour until I told him that my husband was Kevin.  He remembered Kevin.  

We were about to head to the snorkeling spot until we had a radio message that a whale had bee spotted nearby.  We headed to the area and saw what I think was the same whale mother and baby we saw on the way to Corcovado.

From there we returned to the reef end of the Whale's Tail and put on the snorkel gear.  I have only ever snorkels once and hat was 10 years ago, so I was a little uncertain at first, but once I had the hang of breathing, I really enjoyed it.  At first it didn't seem like there were many interesting g fish, but the more I swam around and observed, the more beautiful fish I saw.  It was like looking into the trees at he jungle and seeing colorful birds.  

After snorkeling we boarded the boat again and went to Marino Balleno Island.  This island is very visible from the Ballena area and is quite prominent in the view at RP.  We stayed on the boat, but we were able to observe the birds that nested there from the boat.  There were some groups snorkeling there as well and I would haves loved to have done that as well. From Ballena Island we went further out to sea and watched the birds who perched on fishing boats waiting for a piece of the catch.  We also found a school of dolphins.  They are impossible to photograph.  I realized video works much better.

The final piece of the tour went by an outcropping of coastal cliffs.  This was a fascinating geologic site as it contained some very cool caves and arches.

When I returned to RP in the afternoon I made Kevin envious showing him my cave photos.  He should have gone on the tour with me.  The snorkeling was such a small part of it.

I spent the late afternoon back at the spa.  I tried to soothe my sunburn with a chocolate wrap.

Day 7 -  The Uvita area is one long continuous strip of unspoiled, uncrowded beaches.  I love the beach, so it is surprising we spent so little time there.  We had several beaches to choose from.  RP has an agreement with a small beach club and restaurant that has its own entrance to what they call the "Secet Beach".  It's not secret.  It's quite public.  It's just that you have to go through the beach club for the easiet and most accessible entrance to this section of the strip of shore.  The beach seems huge, but very large portions of sand are covered over when her tide is high.  It goes right to the tree line.  We wanted to avoid that strong sun and still have a dry place to sit, so we had to do a bit of searching to find a shady spot with dry sand.  That hardly mattered in the end as I spent most of the day in the water.  I rented a boogie board at the club and did what I always do at the beach.  The water was warmer than I could ever expect the ocean to be.  The waves were large, but quite gentle.  They didn't crash with the heavy force that knocks you over like the waves at Assateague beach.

All that time in the water and out of the shade meant I was sunburned even worse by the end of the day.  It was worth it.

Once we returned it was time to start thinking about packing.  We were leaving RP the next day.  What a sad thought!  We drowned our sorrows as best we could at the bar before dinner.

Day 8+ - Our plane from Quepos to San Jose didn't leave until the late afternoon, so we had a good chunk of the day to hang out at RP, finish packing, and say goodbye to the staff.  I spent some time swimming and hanging out by the pool, but it was becoming cloudy and overcast and rain clouds were closing in on the mountains.  I went to our room to shower and do my final packing.  Seeing Kevin's stuff packed up made me think about how said it was that the room was in the process of not being our room anymore.  We ate lunch, paid the bills, said our final goodbyes, and then headed off with Alex to the airport.

One small comfort about leaving was seeing the pouring rain once we were at Quepos.  It's always easier to leave when the weather is bad.

We had a short, uneventful flight back to San Jose.  We were back in the Holiday Inn for one more night. We were hungry for dinner and there weren't too many local options.  We had a coupon from the hotel for the chicken place next door, but there was also a Denny's in walking distance.  Kevin thought the novelty of that was too good to pass up.  For our final night in Costa Rica we enjoyed the finest Coata Rican cuisine Denny's has to offer.  We missed our friends and the staff at RP - along with Alex's food and Vianney's cocktails.

In the morning we boarded the plane for New York.  Back to the cold.  Back to the snow.  Back to work.  Back to reality.  At least we have our family and the horses waiting for us on the other side.


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