First Class We are spending a few days with George and Susan before meeting up with Rick & Randy for a 10 day trip to Costa Rica. Poor Dan has to get up at 4:50am for us to catch a 7:00am flight. At least first class doesn't have to stand in the commoners' line! And LAX's Admiral Club actually distinguishes between first and business class. Too early in the morning to take advantage of the booze, but we eat a nice breakfast before our connection to Miami. On flight, we are served another breakfast, plus in-flight-made cookies with milk. Love the pampering… little do we know that Miami Airport is going to beat this out of us! We arrive at the carousel at 5:00… carousel, she no goes. 5:30? Nope! 6:00? Noooo… 6:30? You wish! Turns out our flight was late, and the union'ed carousel workers moved on to another flight and the union wouldn't allow them to come back to ours. So we wait 2 hours before they place our luggage on the carousel so it travels about 10 feet to the inside of the terminal. Thanx a lot!
Flat Straight Line Interstate 75, which connects Miami to Naples, runs over The Everglades, turned once for like 2 degrees, and its high-point is about 10' when it goes over a road! There is a chain link fence along the entire border of the park to keep in the alligators. The next morning we head over to George's house; he is such a Shmoopy Sr.! Totally makes Assana feel welcome. Susan couldn't be bothered to stay home to greet us. So we go to the tennis club were we have lunch with a bunch of random people. Assana finally meets Susan.
Xmas Errands It's Xmas day, and we pack up our rental car with all the gifts and goodies we have for everyone. Susan isn't anywhere to be seen - she is out "running errands"! WTF? But George is there and, once again, he makes us feel super welcome. He cooks all day: turkey, mashed potato, stuffing, bread, pie, everything! And all very tasty. Susan eventually returns, walks by us twice without even noticing us, sits at dinner table, serves herself and eats without offering to serve George, then leaves after dinner for another errand. Does not even bother opening our gifts. But we have to say that best part of the day is the daughter's boyfriend who chews tobacco during dinner and periodically turns and spits in George's manicured garden. It is an interesting xmas, to say the least.
Wellbutrin Back to Miami for the night before heading to Costa Rica. Driving around Miami is crazy: roads are all torn up and the drivers are nuts, and the signs are either missing or wrong. We spend the afternoon goofing around Miami Beach with its nice Art Deco architecture, dinner at Rusty Pelican with views of the city, and a lot of bad TV for the evening.
Luis Whoooo hoooo! Costa Rica, here we come. We meet up with Rick & Randy in the terminal. Our flight attendants are super fun and gregarious, and Luis has a crush on Dan. Assana's presence is totally confusing the situation: "What's the deal with the girl?" Luis asks Randy! They send us off with a couple of bottles of wine. Thanx Luis!
Dieeeeeesel Kevin-of-Costa-Rica, our tour operator has assured us that someone from his company will meet us in the terminal to take us to the rental agency. Well, we land, and there's no one waiting for us. A few uneasy minutes later some dude shows up and takes us to Toyota. We are getting a brand new 4Runner. The rental agent at the counter repeats diesel a million times: dieeeeeeeeesel! Yes, we get it dude! First stop is Villa Blanca in Los Angeles Cloud Forest. It is super foggy and cloudy - imagine that. Our cabins have kiva fireplaces and firewood which we can't get going since everything is so wet. Our first visitor in the park is a gigantic spider in Rick & Randy's room. We freak out and make Dan get rid of it. He wants to take its picture! JUST GET RID OF IT!! Rick & Randy end up bug-spraying the perimeter of their bed that night.
Afro The next morning Assan'a hair has turned into an afro. And it actually startles Rick! We are fascinated by the leaf-cutter ants. They work so vigorously, and keep the shrubs nicely pruned down. After a yummy breakfast of eggs and beans we meet up with some cowboys for a morning of horseback riding. The trail crossed a stream but we are all too chicken to stay on our horses; we take a rope bridge. Back to the lodge for lunch and clean-up. A mystery drink with some seed pods is served and totally ignored by our party!
Costa Rican Cosmo Next is zip lining thru the jungle. We stand on slippery and shaky platforms, a hundred feet above the forest floor. The four of us are first in the group, and we don't want to wait for the slow pokes to catch up. So we convince our guide to split from the rest of the group. We zip past monkeys and other critters… and orchids! The last zip is 300 yards down to the forest floor. It's crazy! And At dinner, Randy takes matters in his own hands and teaches the bartender how to make a cosmo.
Burp! We are on the road and heading to Arenal Volcano. The road takes us through pastel villages and we finally arrive at Arenal. While waiting for our rooms to be ready we take a drive up the road to a lake where we have views of the volcano. As we are admiring it, we hear a little bang, and boom! The volcano burps for us! Further up the road the coatimundi try to carry Rick away. We have adjacent bungalows in Hotel Arenal Paraiso. While touring the grounds Rick, amazingly, spots a plinky frog in the shrubs. Pliiieeeeenk! We are having dinner at Tabacón Hot Springs. The pools are filled with natural hot spring water, even though Dan suspects they are heated by the worlds largest hot water heater, each with their temperature listed on them. Before dinner with change into our bathing suit and spend quite a bit of time boiling ourselves in hot springs.
Claustrophobia Next on the agenda is Venado Caves. Earlier on, when making plans, Assana had asked the guide about the width of the caves. "Ah! they are wide! No problemo!" Well, the Costa Rican idea of "wide" and ours is totally different. Randy isn't a happy camper, Assana learns a lesson, and that's all we are gonna say about that. A trip to the Hanging Gardens lightens the mood and we all put the cave incident behind us. The trail is composed of bridges thru the forest's canopy and it gives us an amazing and completely different view of the dense jungle.
All-inclusive Done with the mountains. We are heading to the coast. First off, a ferry ride to Tambor. We get starred down by some biker guys at the gas station where we fill our tank with dieeeeeesel. "Whatever", says the reindeer! An hour of ferry ride, plus twenty minutes of docking - bad design! - gets us to the peninsula. We have a short drive to Barcelo, where we are staying… "What do you mean I have to wear a wrist band? What?? All inclusive resort?" Ayyy! the resort is all inclusive and not in a good way. Too many people around. It is like a cruise ship on land. Randy and Assana are not happy, but what can we do. We check for our dinner reservations, and can't find them. One black mark for Kevin-of-Costa-Rica! But we finagle a 9:00pm seating. We get dressed up in fancy clothes for dinner, which turns out to be quite disappointing, and accompanied by a band playing loud horrible music. So we change back to our casual clothes, take the bottle of wine Luis gave us and head to the beach for our own new year's celebration. It is great fun!
Tambor Tropical The next morning, after a horrible night sleep, none of us are in the mood for the hotel. We ask for different rooms on our way out, head out to some waterfalls and hiking to take our minds off of the horrible hotel. Upon returning we move into different rooms which are marginally better than the old ones, but we are still not happy. On the second day we decide to take a walk on the beach. After about a kilometer, we come across an adorable little hotel right on the beach. It is beautiful with its manicured grounds, lovely all-wood bungalows and a great pool. On a whim, Randy asks Assana if we should check for availability. We do, and they have two bungalows! We are ecstatic! We run back to Barcelo, pack up our stuff and we are back at Tambor Tropical as soon as we can. We love our rooms and the grounds and spend the rest of the day relaxing by the pool.
Black-out It is our last night with Rick and Randy and we are having dinner on a gazebo right on the beach. We talk and laugh and reminisce about the earlier days of the trip. Food is good, drinks are good, company is great. Electricity goes out half way thru dinner, but who cares! We are not in Barcelo anymore.
Armpit After dropping Rick and Randy off at the airport, we visit a butterfly farm before heading to our hotel in San Jose, Hotel Grano de Oro. Super cute boutique hotel in the middle of this armpit of a city. We have a full day to explore San Jose, and boy! Is San Jose ugly! For giggles we visit a department store where the sizes went from "Large" to "Mama Size", and where all the brands were almost brand names: Tobby Hillfiger, and Calbot Klein, etc. A great dinner in the hotel's interior courtyard wraps up this great trip.